Virginia Key was the hot topic at the June city of Miami Commission meeting as the fates of both the African-American Museum and the Rickenbacker and Marine Stadium marinas were on the agenda.
Both projects have been protracted battles and only the African-American museum got the go ahead, as the marina was once again postponed while the city grapples with accusations that the winning bidder has business ties with Cuba.
Civil Rights Museum funds unlocked
The proposed African-American museum moved forward after years of delay as Miami Commissioners unanimously passed a resolution sponsored by Mayor Francis Suarez that commits the city to assist with operation costs of the museum on Virginia Key.
Supporters of the museum showed up in force wearing yellow shirts that read, “Support the civil rights museum at Virginia Key Beach Park” on the front and “Support the people’s beach” on the back. Many stepped up to the microphone during public comment to offer their support of the museum.
Miami resident Karen Moore stated that the museum is an important endeavor.
“Museums preserve cultural values, folklore and our shared history” she said.
Courtney Berrien, Associate Director of Barry University's Center for Community Service Initiatives, echoed the importance of preserving and presenting this history:
“This is a uniquely Miami story of a group of marginalized citizens coming together to create a place for convening people from different backgrounds...and that place was the beach.”
“The museum will provide unique civic learning and engagement activities for a new generation by engaging patrons in dialogue on the intersections of ocean health, civic health, and social history.” Said Berrien.
Mayor Suarez emphasized that the museum is something that will benefit all Miamians and be a regional attraction.
He expressed optimism that the city’s resolution to provide operating funds will cause the release of funds from Miami-Dade County totaling about $20.5 million for construction of the museum. “This is an enormous victory for the preservation of our history, particularly African-American history, in the city of Miami and I am hopeful that the county will do the right thing and release the funds so we can begin constructing the museum.”
In the first three years the museum’s projected operational costs would be $700,000-$1 million a year, said Miami Budget Director Chris Rose.
County Commissioner Xavier Suarez, whose district includes Virginia Key and Key Biscayne, said he is totally committed to making the museum a success.
“The combination of the museum and the playing field adjacent to it will result in a magnificent venue for after school programs, summer camps and visits by residents and tourists” he said.
Guy Forchion, executive director of Historic Virginia Key Beach Trust expressed excitement about the museum plans moving along:
“We are looking forward to having the chance to tell important historical and cultural stories from our shared South Florida past, highlight an amazing natural landscape and inspire future generations with the successful civic activism efforts that created the Historic Beach Park.”
The tentative start for construction on the museum is 2021.
The seemingly intractable legal battle over control of the Virginia Key marinas will continue for at least another month as the item was once again deferred over accusations that the winning bidder has business ties with Cuba.
Attorney Al Dotson, representing the winning bidder Virginia Key LLC and Robert Christoph Sr. and Jr., unveiled a giant check that he said represents “the real money being lost” by the delay in handing over the marinas so his clients can begin operations.
Representing the current operator and second place bidder Aabad Melwani, attorney Miguel De Grandy replied that he “didn’t bring props, just facts” and those facts had to do with the winning bidder’s business activities in Cuba.
The drama over who should operate the marinas began in 2015 with a request for proposal process that eventually resulted in Virginia Key LLC being chosen as the new operator. Aabad Melwani, the current operator and chosen as the second-ranked bidder, filed an unsuccessful bid protest that eventually worked its way through the court system.
After discussing the timing of a decision to get the winning bid onto the ballot for voter approval, the commissioners decided to defer the decision another month in order to complete a review of the Christophs involvement in a marina project in Cuba.
David Winker, Esq. is a Miami attorney active in many South Florida civic issues. Mr. Winker was formerly involved in the lawsuit to prevent the sale of Melreese Stadium to the Beckham Group and recently represented the Brickell Homeowner’s Association lawsuit objecting to the Ultra license agreement on Virginia Key.