Raquel Regalado and Norman Braman Join Forces to Block Skyrise Miami, Create Political Intrigue
Well, here's your local political story of the year with implications that could reverberate through Miami's skyline and local government for years to come.
Raquel Regalado, a school board member with much grander political ambitions, has teamed up with billionaire and expert political agitator Norman Braman to sue the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County to block public subsidies for the controversial, toenail clipper-shaped Skyrise Miami project.
Of course, the City of Miami's mayor is Tomas Regalado, Raquel's father, essentially pitting the two generations against each other. Though, it's county mayor Carlos Gimenez who may have ultimately more to worry about.
Championed by developer Jeff Berkowitz, Miamians voted back in August 2014 to allow the city to lease waterfront property near Bayside for the oddly shaped tower. Powered by a need to leave a personal "legacy," Berkowitz plans call for amusement park-like thrill rides, a movie theater, restaurant, bungee jumping, and observation deck. He somehow projects that the tower will be visited by more people annually than the Eiffel Tower.
Here's the kicker though. That ballot referendum described the project as "privately funded." After the vote, Berkowitz then convinced the county government to grant him $9 million to use in infrastructure for the project. Which means, of course, the project is no longer strictly publicly funded.
"The law is very clear... the language specifically said that no public money would be used," Regalado tells New Times.
Berkowitz had made public promises that the project would not cost the city of Miami a single cent. He never said anything about the county, though. Of course, City of Miami property owners must pay taxes to both the city and county, so they're likely not too comforted by that technicality.
"There shouldn't be a semantics game about what is public funding" adds Regalado.
The new lawsuit aims to block county funding for the project as well as invalidate the initial ballot question. Whether that means Berkowitz and his investors will end up having to cough up that extra $9 million themselves, the entire project is derailed, or the suit accomplishes nothing in regards to Skyline will be decided in court.
Regalado says that ultimately she thinks there should be another referendum on the project completely.
Granted, this lawsuit seems to only partially be about the tower in the first place. It's also about political chess.
Photo by Marta Xochilt Perez
While this technically pits Regalado against the city run by her father, there isn't much family drama here. The elder Regalado had championed Skyrise during the approval referendum, but was quite public in his disagreement with the county-funding package afterward.
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The real mayor the young Regalado may be after is the one sitting in County Hall: Carlos Gimenez.
Raquel Regalado has made her intentions known that she's toying with the idea of running for either city mayor in 2017 to replace her term-limited father, or county mayor in 2016 against Gimenez.
Gimenez was a champion of the Skyrise funding, and indeed has received campaign contributions from Berkowitz in the past.
Gimenez, of course, only came to power after Braman funded a recall election against his predecessor Mayor Carlos Alvarez, in large part thanks to his support of public funding for Marlins Park. Braman didn't pick sides in the election to replace Alvarez, but Gimenez won and was the ultimate political winner in the recall.
Braman is now aligning himself with the most high-profile potential Gimenez opponent.
This is also not the first time Regalado and Gimenez have been in direct conflict. Another referendum on that August ballot (this one county-wide) asked voters to raise property taxes to build a new county courthouse. Gimenez supported the move. Regalado, though known as the Miami mayor's daughter, school board member and host of a radio and TV program, shot herself to political prominence by opposing that plan.
Regalado ultimately won that round. We'll see who wins the next battle in what could be a war.
Follow Kyle Munzenrieder on Twitter @Munzenrieder
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