Miami Commission to consider Watson Island heliport, to draw tourists

Ten years have passed since the city of Miami accepted Paul Dudley’s bid to build a public heliport on Watson Island.

On Thursday, the two parties may finally ink the deal.

The city commission will consider approving a 30-year lease between the Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority and Dudley’s company, New Jersey-based Linden Airport Services.

If it gets the green light, Linden will be charged with developing, building and operating a facility to be called the Watson Island Aviation and Visitors Center.

City officials envision the heliport becoming a hub of tourist activity.

“Miami is a beautiful city,” Commissioner Francis Suarez said. “You want to have a place where tourists can come, get in a helicopter, see the city, see the Everglades.”

But some critics allege the city has cut a sweetheart deal with the heliport operator, and ought to collect more in rent than the amount being proposed. The contract calls for Linden to invest $1.45 million in the infrastructure, plus pay a minimum rent of $2,200 a month or a percentage of gross revenues for the first two years. The payments increase annually.

“The amount of money we’re getting under this agreement is absurdly low,” said Nathan Kurland, a board member of the semi-autonomous Sports and Exhibition Authority, known as MSEA. “We keep talking about how the city of Miami needs money. But every time we deal with waterfront property, we deal with it like an infectious disease. We want to get rid of it as quickly and cheaply as possible.”

Miami is one of a handful of major cities without a heliport. Watson Island has had a helicopter landing pad in the past, but it hasn’t been open for several years. Most helicopters end up at Opa-locka Executive Airport or Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport.

The city of Miami first asked for bids to develop a 2.4-acre heliport facility on Watson Island in August 2002. Dudley answered the following month.

Read more of this story on The Miami Herald.

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