Battle for the $1B Island Gardens project. For well over a decade, Turkish entrepreneur Mehmet Bayraktar has been on a seemingly quixotic quest to transform a barren patch of prime waterfront land in Miami into a billion-dollar ultraluxury resort with a supersized wharf accommodating the 1 percentâ€™s titanic yachts.
But the mixed-use project known as Island Gardens, planned for city-owned property on the southwestern side of Watson Island, has been stymied by one obstacle after another from the get-go.
For starters, Bayraktarâ€™s Flagstone Property Group claimed it was blocked from breaking ground on the project at every turn, citing everything from the economic fallout after 9/11 to the Great Recession as well as numerous lawsuits, some of them resulting from local opposition.
Along the way, potential partnerships with big brands like Sherwood Resorts and Hotels, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts and the Related Group have fizzled.
The developer finally broke ground on the project â€” which consists of a high-end shopping mall, two upscale hotels, restaurants, parking facilities and a 50-slip marina â€” in 2015. But just when Bayraktar was really gaining steam with the completion of the $52 million marina last year, his landlord â€” the city of Miami â€”Â decided it was time to cut tiesÂ with Flagstone.
Now Bayraktar has one last chance, observers said.Â Flagstone is suing the cityÂ in an attempt to overturn a Miami City Commission vote in May that found the developer defaulted on the agreement by allegedly missing a key construction deadline. The case is set to go to trial in February.
Bayraktar did not respond to multiple requests for comment himself, but his representatives said the 56-year-old developer remains determined to build Island Gardens. â€œI donâ€™t think he is going to walk away from his vision,â€ said Brian May, a principal with Miami lobbying firm Floridian Partners, who represents Flagstone before the city.
But opponents of the project strongly believe Bayraktarâ€™s project is finished. They say there are numerous times his company failed to meet requirements in various agreements and leases with the city.Â
Stephen Herbits, a lawyer and former Department of Defense bureaucrat, is a local activist who has led the opposition against the development in various capacities for almost as long as Island Gardens has been on the drawing board. â€œI think he is just trying to save face,â€ Herbits said of the new lawsuit. â€œThis is a huge personal defeat for him. Island Gardens will never happen.â€
In the 15 years Herbits has opposed Island Gardens, he has accused city officials of repeatedly breaking their own rules to help Flagstone. And he was a key player recently in convincing city commissioners to kill the deal with Bayraktarâ€™s company even though both City Manager Daniel Alfonso and the cityâ€™s Real Estate Asset Management Director Aldo Bustamante stated publicly that they believed Flagstone was not defaulting on its agreement with the city.