Guess Who's Coming... to Dinner Key?

Now playing: A fight over a prime piece of Miami bayfront property. Will the city fo Hollywood or choose a tamer role for the old boat yard?

Meanwhile the boat yard is already changing. This past June 20th Century Fox needed more space in Miami for work on Speed II, a $60 million sequel to the 1994 action movie starring Keanu Reeves. The film's producer, Steve Perry, hired former Miami commissioner Rosario Kennedy to intervene on behalf of the studio and persuade a ragtag band of maritime craftsmen to vacate the city-owned premises for several months.

After some negotiation, the craftsmen accepted a monetary inducement to leave, and today the larger of the two Dinner Key hangars is abuzz with as many as 100 local and out-of-town prop builders. The sets they construct are shipped by barge to the island of St. Martin. Filming began recently in Los Angeles, Miami, and the Keys.

In her role as political mechanic, Kennedy also helped Perry secure production sites near Bayfront Park and the Port of Miami. Later, Kennedy acknowledges, she arranged a luncheon at the Grand Bay Hotel for herself, Miami Mayor Joe Carollo, and Perry, during which the three discussed the possibility of Perry and Sylvester Stallone bidding on the boat-yard lease with a view toward building a movie studio. "The fact that the [Dinner Key boat-yard] site is already being used to produce a movie, even in its dilapidated state, shows that a studio on that location can be a very good idea," Kennedy says.

Perry was already familiar with Dinner Key. More than a decade ago he used one of the seaplane hangars to shoot The Mean Season, a 1984 movie starring Andy Garcia, Mariel Hemingway, and Kurt Russell. "Thirteen years ago it was in the same dilapidated condition it is today, which is a shame," Perry notes. "It seems like the last thing down there that really needs fixing up."

Kennedy says she was touring the property with Perry and Stallone one day after work on Speed II had begun. She mentioned that the boat-yard lease was up for grabs. Perry and Stallone got interested. "I brought Manny [Medina] in at the end because of his expertise," Kennedy adds.

The four partners -- Medina, Kennedy, Stallone, and Perry -- recruited well-connected local consultants, including Robert Traurig (legal counsel), Wolfberg Alvarez & Partners (architecture), and Arthur Andersen (financial planning). They also hired M.N.R.E. Management & Consulting Corp. to operate the planned marina. State records list Manuel Diaz, a former top executive at Medina's development company, as president, director, and registered agent of the corporation.

Although his name doesn't appear on public records, Coconut Grove businessman Stephen Kneapler is also a principal in M.N.R.E., according to Kennedy. Kneapler, a long-time associate of Medina and Diaz, heads the management team that operates Monty Trainer's restaurant immediately north of the boat yard. Medina, Diaz, and Kneapler are no strangers to city leases on waterfront property. In 1986, three years before going to prison for tax evasion, restaurateur and Miami politico Monty Trainer sold his restaurant lease to Medina for $6.1 million. Medina expanded the business and later sublet portions of the property to Kneapler. In 1980, Kneapler pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges following an SEC investigation of his Miami-based Richmond Industries.

In addition to his role as limited partner in the boat-yard redevelopment group, Medina is the head of two companies that hope to handle construction, management, and retail operations for the reconfigured Dinner Key site. Another of his companies, Terremark Centre Ltd., is additionally the single largest limited partner in the redevelopment group, controlling twice as many shares of stock as any of the other participants. Medina's most recent real estate project is Grove Hill Tower, a luxury condo with balconies overlooking the bedraggled boat yard.

Medina declined to comment on his role in the proposed development deal. Kennedy says the fact that she and Medina were perceived as tangential players in Sherman Whitmore's disastrous boat-yard scheme seven years ago is entirely irrelevant today.

To the Atlantic Clipper Foundation, Ltd., the partnership put together by Rosario Kennedy, the idea of a movie studio at the old boat yard is forward-thinking and practical. The partners say they expect to derive up to 67 percent of revenues by renting out two state-of-the-art sound stages to be built inside the larger hangar. "What makes this financially sound is precisely the movie studio," Kennedy says. "This is a chance for Miami to capitalize on its reputation as a premier spot for film production. Whoever wants to champion this project will bring a great industry to this city at a time when it is strapped for cash. It could be a godsend."

In addition to building a production studio, the partners say they will create a "film institute" in conjunction with Miami-Dade Community College that would offer industry internships to students and educational programs to the public. They bristle at critics who claim the film institute is mere window dressing to make a private, commercial sound stage more palatable to the public.

"Not correct!" says Perry. "The educational facility we intend to create as part of the studio will not be closed to the public, and in fact the studio will be open to the public in ways that the other proposed projects could never be."

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