Is Watson Island the New Overtown (With a Mega-Yacht Club)?

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Watson Island is the redheaded stepchild of Biscayne Bay. Star Island gets Shaquille O'Neal and Madonna. Fisher Island has its own private ferry. And poor Watson is stuck with a field of dry grass and a theme park full of restless parrots.

Sure, it's home to the Japanese garden and boasts one of the best views of the Miami skyline. But it's in rough shape, says Jim Villacorta of the city's Community Redevelopment Agency. "It's counterintuitive," he says. "You drive past and you think, Isn't that beautiful? It's on the water. But we've got pictures of drug use, needles, crack pipes, and people living under the bridge." A bad oil spill recently ravaged the land, and streets are sinking into the bay.

County commissioners vote today on whether to grant the island a tax break from the CRA. If the vote goes through, Watson Island will join the ranks of other badly blighted spots such as Overtown and Park West. A large amount of its property tax would then go right back to the island -- instead of the county -- to clean up the place. (Check out CRA's report on the subject here.)

Not everybody is thrilled. Commissioner Joe Martinez argues, "Redevelopment areas are really taking a lot of money away in a time when we need it."

Watson Island is owned by the state, which makes permitting more difficult for builders. Made of landfill, it was originally called Causeway Island. Years ago, it was the site of a small airport.

And consider this: Commissioners have already approved a mega-yaght club and a sprawling hotel for the island. So developers aren't afraid of the place the way they were -- or shall we say are? -- spooked by Overtown and Park West. We'll keep you posted on the vote.

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