For more than two decades on the tip of Virginia Key, Rickenbacker Marina has run its business providing boat storage, a rare longtime Miami operator during a period marked by rapid development and soaring property values. But now the marina is claiming the city is pushing it out to make way for a new lessee -- and using dirty tricks to do so. The marina filed a lawsuit yesterday in Miami-Dade civil court detailing its complaints against the city.
"This is not a case where we didn't pay them," David Haber, an attorney for the marina, tells Riptide. "This is a case where the guy's paying his rent for 30 years and they just don't like him anymore and they want someone else. You can speculate on why."
The dispute has its roots in the marina's most recent lease renewal, which was signed in 2009 and extended Rickenbacker's operational rights through 2016. As part of the contract, the marina agreed to build an 11-foot-wide walkway -- but that proved impossible, Haber says, because of environmental concerns raised about adjacent mangroves, so a five-foot walkway was built instead and signed off on by the city in 2011.
Two years later, the lawyer says, the city came back and abruptly withdrew its approval of the lease. The marina sued, and the city returned fire with a countersuit alleging that not only was the marina in default because of the reduced width of the walkway, but that the marina also owed the city $2 million, to be paid immediately, because of a stipulation in the lease requiring the marina to compensate the city if a parking structure were constructed.
But the city's real motivation, contends Haber, was political: They wanted to find any way they could to disqualify Rickenbacker from its lease so the city could clear the way for a new bid.
"We found emails saying they were looking to find defaults," Haber says. "Fabricating breaches and litigating with the public's money because they want to one day enrich some other fancy developer is not the way cities are supposed to do business."
The City of Miami did not return Riptide's call for comment.