What's that about? We know that Monty's has been a popular Coconut Grove waterfront restaurant for 48 years. The original owner, Monty Trainer, sold it to developers long ago.
When I arrived in the mid-70's it was a funky beer shack serving fish sandwiches much like Scotty's Landing does today. Dining by the bay at Scotty's
It was what locals needed, a casual place to relax, have dinner and stare out at Biscayne Bay. Monty's was very "Coconut Grove".
That changed when the developers took over. It was re-built into a small mall and the restaurant expanded to 800 seats. The bay view was blocked with a super-sized marina crammed with expensive boats. Tourists took over and the locals stopped going there.
Every twenty years or so the property's lease comes up for renewal and the City of Miami, who owns it, decides what happens next. The present owners, a group of developers led by Jose Hevia, wants their lease extended 52 years (32 years plus options for 20 more). This extension requires voter approval. That's why we're getting post cards. That's why Hevia & Co. are asking us to vote YES.
They want another 52 years so they can get make gobs of money -which is good business- but what are we getting in return? The answers are hazy.
How should you vote? I have no idea. Maybe it is a good deal or maybe it stinks.
I do know voters are being kept in the dark. The post cards tell us next to nothing about the issues. They assume we are stupid, which sadly, we are. Look who's tossing paper towels in Puerto Rico.
After every hurricane we get a water view returns to Monty's for a month. After that, it goes away when the boats return.
Monty's sits on public property. We own the land. Why wasn't the public invited to the discuss it's future when the City saw the lease term ending? Why didn't the City consider knocking Monty's down and turning into a public park? It's not a crazy idea, just one alternative that I happen to like. I guess citizen input isn't important to our city's leaders.
When it comes to leasing public land, the City of Miami has a black eye. The one we remember best came from a baseball, the city's tarnished lease of the Marlins' stadium property. We got screwed big time on that.
Last July 17th, the Miami city commission approved a resolution that waived a discussion of the Grove property's future, eliminated competitive bidding by other developers, and allowed the present owners to put their 52-year proposed lease extension up for a Nov. 7th vote.
This insures that the developers will win. Why? They have $millions and the Miami city commission in their pockets. This deal is going down quickly before any discussion can take place and any opposition can form.
Only the developers have the money to buy TV and radio ads. Their PR people will continue to stuff our mailboxes with their annoying postcards. The ads will make the half-century extension sound like a gift from God.
That's how the City and their developer friends pushed the Grove Bay Mall through -another public waterfront property 150 yards south of Monty's- four years ago. Grove Bay is now replacing Scotty's Landing and everything around it with a Don Shula's Steakhouse, mega-parking garage, and all other sorts of mall-like splendor.
A CENTURY OF
Why didn't the city propose another twenty year lease? Maybe we'll have a better use for this property in 2046. It seems like a bad idea, putting it private hands for another 52 years. With the 48 already accumulated, in the year 2069 we can celebrate the grand centennial of Monty's fish sandwich.
Is that what you want? If most voters approve the proposal the developers will control the land until we are all dead and our children are living in nursing homes.
WHAT TO WE GET OUT OF IT?
In exchange for the lease extension the developers will spend $7.5 million to improve the property (the price of a small bayfront house ) and give the City $200,000 a year (the cost of renting one). Does that seem adequate? The proposal also says Hevia & Friends will contribute $50,000 a year for affordable housing. Wha? What does that have to do with the price of fish sandwiches?
The silly post cards tug at our heartstrings as well (why not? We really are stupid) by saying Monty's owners need this extension to rebuild its hurricane-damaged marina. Are you serious? That's what their property insurance is for.
Is anyone talking about Monty's being underwater fifty years from now? Irma washed it our pretty well last month. The complex will be inundated by sea-level rise before the lease ends. Should the lease consider how this problem will be addressed? No one likes conch fritters dipped in seawater.
Before the City decided the property's fate last July, voters should have been told details of the developers' planned renovations. Will we be getting another Grove Bay? Will our limited access to the bay be decreased? We can barely see the water now but the post card promises "improved waterfront views". What does that mean? Will they build a stairway going up to the renovated restaurant's roof? Will that allow us to peer out to sea over the renovated marina that will protrude even further into what once was a marine sanctuary?
The bottom line is we have no clear idea what voting "yes" means. We have no independent body assessing the developer's proposal or what could be reasonable alternatives for the use of this public land.
Jose & Company's steamroller is comin' our way on a path paved with postcards. A month from now the whole city will vote on what's best for Coconut Grove. And sadly, they will do what the developers tell them to do. That's how it's done in Miami.