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Riviera's titanic waterfront revamp
faces sinking feeling

RIVIERA BEACH For Bob Healey, the city's $2.4 billion waterfront redevelopment plan is like a yacht stalled at sea.

The New Jersey yachtmaker should know. His company, Viking Inlet Harbor Properties, was picked a year ago this week to turn 400 acres of blight into a dazzling waterfront.

 

The decision was heralded as the catalyst to change the economic landscape of a beleaguered city too often associated only with crime and poverty. The celebration has been short-lived. The only tangible sign of International Harbor Village is the Riviera Beach Maritime Academy, a Viking-sponsored charter school designed to teach students about the marine industry.

Otherwise, there is little to show, after 12 months and more than $50 million, Healey said.

"We're not going forward on anything," a frustrated Healey said.

Why International Harbor Village is at a standstill is a twisted tale filled with changes in the political and economic climate from Riviera Beach to Tallahassee, Healey said. These key factors contributed to the project's lack of progress: a glut in the condominium market, the loss of eminent domain, the entrance of Wayne Huizenga Jr. in the race to buy land in the redevelopment area and the recent addition of California consultant Bernard Kinsey to the city's negotiating team.

Floyd Johnson, executive director of the city's Community Redevelopment Agency, ushered in the process by which Viking was selected as master developer over three other competitors. Last September, Johnson figured it would take up to six months to finalize a deal with Viking to develop a hotel, shops, condos, an aquarium, marina and restaurants along the Intracoastal Waterway, south of Blue Heron Boulevard. The project is estimated to take 15 years to complete.

"It is by far not as simple as some folks would choose to make it," Johnson said.

For eight months, Johnson led the negotiations with Viking. However, during that time, the political winds changed in response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision that gave state legislatures the opportunity to limit eminent domain laws. Florida lawmakers did just that, stripping governments such as Riviera Beach's of a redevelopment tool.

In May, council members Vanessa Lee, Jim Jackson and Norma Duncombe voted to hire Kinsey. That decision has kept the council divided and given the dissenters, Council Chairwoman Ann Iles and Councilwoman Liz Wade, a forum to rail about Kinsey's $3,000-a-day contract.

Despite their rants, Kinsey's contract was extended for another six months in August. By then, Kinsey was beginning to promote something called the Community Benefits Partnership Program, a two-page list of demands for developers seeking to participate in the city's redevelopment.

Although Brown and the council had talked in the past about requiring such community benefits, Kinsey took it a step further and put the plans on paper.

"My ability is to get other things from the developers that may have not been on the table," Kinsey said. "I will not do a deal unless the city gets some economic benefit."

Brown said developers must realize that they can't come into Riviera Beach and develop the city's prime property without offering some benefits to residents. The community benefits partnership asks developers to provide such things as job training, hiring minority contractors, contributing to city-sponsored events such as the Jazz and Blues Festival, donating to the Riviera Beach scholarship fund and supporting municipal projects such as the Barracuda Bay Aquatic Center.

"We promised our residents that this would not be another Atlantic City," Brown said. "We can't do this without securing some benefits for our residents."

Healey understands the city's desire to improve conditions for residents. It's the reason Viking pumped $2 million into creating the charter school and he's bought property throughout the city to create some affordable housing.

However, virtually twisting the arms of developers to force them to sign such an agreement is excessive, Healey said. There are less intrusive ways to get developers to invest in community projects, he said.

Kinsey said he isn't backing off the community benefits partnership. And, he said Healey asked to suspend negotiations after Kinsey responded to Viking's demands on the city in June.

"I'm waiting on him to come back to me to say he's ready," Kinsey said.

Meanwhile, Kinsey is close to cutting a deal with Catalfumo Construction to redevelop the Ocean Mall. Catalfumo, the lead company in the group comprising Ocean Mall Redevelopment, wants to build a 28-story Marriott hotel/condo and 60,000 square feet of shops and restaurants on the city's 11-acre beachfront on Singer Island.

Kinsey is scheduled to bring a final agreement for approval at the CRA meeting Sept. 27. At that time, Kinsey promises to show the benefits of having the community benefits partnership.

From Healey's perspective, Catalfumo is in a much better position to adhere to such demands. The Marriott portion of the Ocean Mall project will generate enough money to spread throughout the community.

But the city can't place the same demands on all developers, he said. Some projects aren't designed to produce enough profits to filter throughout the community.

That sentiment was underscored last month when Huizenga's company, Rybovich and Sons, withdrew plans for a $6 million yacht building center at 20th Street and Broadway. Healey said that deal would have created some new jobs and opened opportunities for development in what's dubbed the "working waterfront," a collection of spinoff businesses servicing the marine industry in the heart of the redevelopment area.

Healey figures Rybovich walked away because it didn't want to be forced to honor the community benefits partnership.

Rybovich's plans hit a snag at the Aug. 3 council meeting when Lee wanted to know whether the promised 60 jobs would be for Riviera residents. Lee, Jackson and Duncombe tabled approving site plans for the project.

Two weeks later, at another council meeting, instead of complying with Kinsey's community benefits partnership, Rybovich withdrew its plans and said in a letter to the council that the political climate was too uncertain.

"They chased Huizenga right out of there," Healey said. "They've got to approve the Rybovich program and they've got to come with an attitude that's going to help us bring in other marine businesses."

Attorney Wayne Richards, who represents Rybovich, said the company has enough land to build its yachtmaking center but needs the council's support. Richards, who also conferred with Rybovich Senior Vice President Carlos Vidueira, said Friday that the project will remain on hold.

Still, the CRA's Johnson holds out hope that the city, the CRA and the developers can and make Riviera Beach's redevelopment plans a success. Despite the tough talk, he believes the land is too valuable and the developers too entrenched to allow the deals to remain dormant.

"This is all a matter of who is going to blink first and who is going to get the most out of the deal," Johnson said.