News, Village Life

Dinner Key Deception?

Ten Years after a historic vote, the glitzy Regatta Harbour redevelopment strays from the plans voters—and City officials–approved.

Just past 7 p.m. on a recent Friday at Coconut Grove’s public waterfront, just north of City Hall,  the TGIF spirit is peaking.  

An overflow crowd spills out the door at the sleek, open-air Bayshore Club while throngs of  people crowd the three outdoor bars at nearby Regatta Grove, sipping mojitos and swaying to  the thumping bass of Disco Incorporated. 

A few steps away, art collectors and other glitterati mingle with some of Latin America’s  foremost contemporary artists inside the restored 1930s-era seaplane hangar once used by Pan  American Airways for its fleet of flying boats. 

It’s been ten years since City of Miami voters gave a thumbs up to the seven-acre  redevelopment of public land on Dinner Key. Slowed by lawsuits, hurricanes, and  environmental concerns, the project—collectively known as Regatta Harbour—is finally coming  into view. 

Gone, as many longtime residents lament, is the laidback but rundown dockside bar and eatery  Scotty’s Landing and the scruffy Grove Key boatyard, replaced by a multi-use entertainment  complex anchored by a state-of-the-art dry dock marina.  

By any measure, it would seem, the project is a smashing success: a steady stream of well heeled locals and out-of-town visitors, rows of sleek powerboats stacked on the dry rack  berths, and city coffers filling each month with rent checks from Regatta Harbour’s operators.  

But not all Grove residents are happy.  

Indeed, a close inspection of the City’s original request for proposals (RFP), the developer’s  2013 pitch to voters, and the binding lease the City Commission approved later that year reveals some notable discrepancies between what was promised and what’s been delivered. 

Perhaps most notably, critics ask: Where’s the boatyard? 

When City of Miami officials issued the RFP in early 2013, inviting developers to bid for the right  to redevelop a prime chunk of public waterfront, they spelled out exactly what should be  included. 

Among the “required uses,” not surprisingly, was a longstanding and vital one: a boatyard,  which, to local commercial and recreational boat owners, meant a place to haul out, service, and repair their vessels. But ten years into the project, the development group selected to  revamp the area makes no mention of boatyard facilities or services on the Regatta Harbour  website. During a recent visit to the property, a marina employee confirmed the obvious: “We  are not a boatyard.” 

Why the boatyard requirement was dropped is unclear. Officials with Grove Bay Investment  Group—whose winning proposal was approved by voters and who signed the lease with the  City—did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Eduardo Garcia, CEO of The TREO  

Group, Grove Bay’s development partner, declined, via email, to be interviewed or to answer  detailed questions submitted in writing, suggesting instead that a Spotlight reporter review the  record of publicly available documents at City Hall.

City of Miami officials also declined to answer questions about the redevelopment project,  noting that its point person overseeing the lease, Department of Real Estate and Asset  Management director Andrew Frey, is new on the job and low on support staff. 

The marine retail component promised by the developers also has been dropped. 

City of Miami law requires voter approval for any private use of publicly owned land, such as downtown’s Bayside Marketplace and the Inter Miami soccer stadium complex rising near the  airport. 

When the Regatta Harbour proposal was pitched to voters in November 2013 (no other  developers submitted proposals) published plans called for the south seaplane hangar to house  boating supply shops and other specialty services for the marine industry—a promise that the  area would maintain the feel and function of a boatyard and working waterfront. 

Today there’s not a bilge pump or bait bucket in sight within the 20,000-square-foot hangar or,  for that matter, anywhere within the seven-acre complex.  

Today, the aluminum-clad, shed-like structure is operating as the Hangar at Regatta Harbour, a  premier, open-floor event space rented out for parties and corporate events. During Miami Art  Week earlier this month, the hangar—along with adjacent public open space condoned off— hosted the Pinta Miami art fair, where opening night tickets cost $60. 

The 2013 proposal before voters also promised “convenience retail” (shops selling ice,  sandwiches, and other basic boater needs) in a small section of the north hangar. That space  now functions as a storeroom for restaurant supplies and equipment.  

Boaters are also disappointed by the unavailability—and high cost—of dry rack space at Regatta  Harbour. A recent inspection of the facility may reveal why. 

Under the City’s lease for the property, the developers were required to construct a minimum  of 400 berths, plus additional dry dock space within the restored north hangar. But the present  drydock structure—five levels of berths accessed via forklift—holds just over half that amount, about 200 boats. (In a 2019 report in the real estate news site The Real Deal, a TREO Group  official explained that they consolidated the previous boatyard’s twin racks into a single  structure to open up waterfront land for other uses). 

Not surprisingly, the dry rack marina is completely full, with a long wait list. The marina has no  wet slips. 

In another apparent violation of lease terms, the dry racks at Regatta Harbour are accepting vessels up to 42 feet, according to marina employees—far larger than the strict 28-foot size  limit imposed by the City. During a recent visit to the property, the racks were stacked with  high-performance powerboats—Intrepids, Tiara Sports, Grady Whites, and others—that far exceeded the legally contracted limits. A half-dozen or so even larger yachts were dry-docked  inside the north hangar. 

High cost is another complaint. One local grove resident said his dry rack rates under Regatta  Grove management doubled from $15 per foot in 2018 to $30 in 2022. The current rate quoted  by marina staff is $34 per foot, or about $1,250 a month for the 37-foot Boston Whaler Outrage  seen recently nestled on the racks. By comparison, the dry storage rate at the City-owned  Marine Stadium Marina on Virginia Key is $21 per foot.  

The marina also lacks other components referenced in the developer’s proposal and its lease  with the City, including a fixed, public pedestrian pier jutting into the water from the bay walk.  

Another noticeably absent lease requirement: the so-called “historic aviation feature” to be  designed in collaboration with the nonprofit HistoryMiami and placed within the prime, central  roundabout between the hangars and the waterfront restaurants. 

Rather cryptically, with little elaboration, the lease also stipulates “The Lessee agrees to use  best efforts to construct two additional boat launches.” None have been built. 

Promises of liberal green space also fall short of the vision pitched by the plan’s backers. The  proposal drawings and documents—prepared by Grove-based Arquitectonica—depicted pockets of lush vegetation and “park space” doting the seven-acre parcel.  

But much of the promised greenspace has been converted to surface parking, including both  sides of the City-built, three-story parking garage.  

Another section of the plan, designated in drawings as “Banyan Tree Park” and hyped as  suitable for both “passive and recreational activities,” is little more than a landscaped berm— layers of thick hedges and other dense foliage, rendering it largely inaccessible. Other areas of  the site have been covered in artificial turf.  

Regatta Harbour’s food and beverage offerings are another departure from its early vision.  Hangar 42, touted to voters as a laidback, casual bar and restaurant (a place to wear flip flops  and bring your dog, as one Regatta Harbor official told the Miami Herald, filling the spiritual  void of Scotty’s Landing) has been renamed and rebranded as the stylish and upscale Bayshore  Club. 

Rising from the site of the old Chart House restaurant, with its low-slung, concrete modernist  design, voters were expecting the rather quotidian Shula’s Steakhouse and the adjacent  Oceano, a Peruvian seafood restaurant. But in 2022 the developers received City permission to  extend their required completion deadline for the restaurants by another nine years, to 2031,  during which time they could construct and operate the complex’s signature entertainment  venue, Regatta Grove, a sprawling open-sided “temporary” pavilion housing three upscale bars,  four “celebrity chef” stations, and the dance groove of a South Beach night club. 

Though free to enter most nights, cover charge at Regatta Grove’s New Year’s Eve celebration is  $75 per person. A table reservation for 10, vodka and Champagne included, will set you back  $2,400. 

Despite its impressive size (42,000 square feet, and a capacity of nearly 1,000 people), the  Regatta Grove pavilion is missing a key feature promised to voters and noted in the lease: an  open-air terrace, freely accessible for public use, topping the restaurant structure and offering  sweeping views of Biscayne Bay. 

The lease also stipulates construction of a “tourist dock”—a place for transient boaters and  dinghies from visiting vessels to tie up and access Dinner Key. The RFP spelled out the dock’s  aim: “to maximize boating access and transient dockage reflecting concepts in the [Coconut  Grove Waterfront] Master Plan.” 

A new floating dock has been built, but passing watercraft are shooed away. Regatta Harbour tightly controls dock access through its bar and restaurant arm, offering space, for a fee, with  advance reservations and payment only—even though the underlying public-access vision for  the property is well documented by City of Miami planners.  

In addition to labeling “accessibility” a key design criterion within its current Waterfront  Masterplan, the requirement is spelled out within the City’s original 2013 RFP for the site,  stating more than once: “Public access shall be paramount.”  

Also spelled out in City documents are precisely what types of business ventures the Regatta  Harbour complex is allowed to operate, known as a “permitted use”: a dry storage marina, boat  repair and marine-related services, fuel sales, retail sales, and three restaurants. Notably  missing is “nightclub” or “bar” which, per City code, is an establishment that derives more than  half its gross food and beverage revenue from alcohol sales—a threshold which, upon  inspection, a visitor might believe the Regatta Grove complex could easily meet.  And yet Regatta Grove, a City spokesperson has verified, is licensed as a restaurant, not a bar.  Detailed financial statements, filed monthly by the project’s developers, could settle the issue but were not immediately made available by City staff.  

Nor could the City clarify under what kind of license or permit The Hangar at Regatta Harbour— a full-service event space operating within the structure originally designated for marine retail  sales—is operating. 

The question of permitted use is an important one, with broad implications for the  development and its impact on Coconut Grove, through the life of a lease that could last 80  years.  

If some longtime residents grumble over broken promises and a vision left unfulfilled, others  complain about what has arisen at the site in its place. Noise complaints, especially since 

Regatta Grove’s opening last summer, are common. And with the luxury condo market  booming just steps away along the South Bayshore Drive corridor, nearby property owners are  wondering if the Dinner Key waterfront’s transformation from sleepy boatyard to multiuse  entertainment complex will be a blessing or a bane.  

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