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 percent’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, Bayraktar’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 — which consists of a high-end shopping mall, two upscale hotels, restaurants, parking facilities and a 50-slip marina — in 2015. But just when Bayraktar was really gaining steam with the completion of the $52 million marina last year, his landlord — the city of Miami — decided it was time to cut ties with Flagstone.

Now Bayraktar has one last chance, observers said. Flagstone is suing the city 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. “I don’t think he is going to walk away from his vision,” said Brian May, a principal with Miami lobbying firm Floridian Partners, who represents Flagstone before the city.

But opponents of the project strongly believe Bayraktar’s project is finished. They say there are numerous times his company failed to meet requirements in various agreements and leases with the city. 

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. “I think he is just trying to save face,” Herbits said of the new lawsuit. “This is a huge personal defeat for him. Island Gardens will never happen.”

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 Bayraktar’s company even though both City Manager Daniel Alfonso and the city’s Real Estate Asset Management Director Aldo Bustamante stated publicly that they believed Flagstone was not defaulting on its agreement with the city.

Full Article: The real deal

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