Miami-Dade commission votes to approve $9 million for SkyRise project

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Commissioners in Miami-Dade County approved using $9 million of new property taxes for SkyRise Miami, a controversial entertainment complex topped with a 1,000-foot observation tower.

Receiving only three “no” votes, the county passed the proposal Tuesday afternoon after the measure nearly died last month in a 6-6 tie.

The vote was a victory for SkyRise developer Jeff Berkowitz, despite objections of the spending plan from Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, who pledged to voters to use no tax dollars on SkyRise.

Needing voter approval to construct the tower next to Bayside Marketplace, Berkowitz’s marketing pitch was “No Cost to the City.”

Regalado earlier supported the tower in an August referendum, when Miami voters overwhelmingly approved the project. The new money is part of a $2.9 billion borrowing program passed in Miami-Dade County 10 years ago.

In voting for the funding Tuesday, County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson switched from a “no” in November; she cited public support as a reason.

“Who am I to turn around and say the voters didn’t know what they were voting for?” Edmonson told the Miami Herald.

As a tourist attraction, SkyRise expects to employ as many as 600 people, but it has yet to negotiate an agreement with Miami-Dade for grant funding. The money will be available once the project is under way.

Berkowitz pledges to raise a majority of the $430 million needed for the project to get up and running, through a federal program that awards green cards to foreign investors investing a minimum of $500,000 for projects in the U.S.

After the vote, Berkowitz said local support is the key to recruiting more than 500 global investors he is actively seeking.

“It sends the message to China … and all over the world that Dade County supports SkyRise Miami,” Berkowitz told the Herald. SkyRise, billed as the “Eiffel Tower of Miami,” and built on city-owned property, is “better looking than the Eiffel Tower,” he says.

When the county commission was deadlocked on Nov. 5 Berkowitz and lobbyist Brian May launched a campaign to win over opponents, managing to flip Edmonson and Sally Heyman.

Esteban “Steve” Bovo and Juan Zapata left the chambers after a holiday luncheon, giving Berkowitz enough votes to win.

Ranked No. 20 by the Miami Herald of top campaign donors to incumbents, Berkowitz contributed $28,000 to commissioners this year. Floridian Partners, May’s firm, also gave $39,000, coming in at No. 12 slot.

Berkowitz also supported the campaigns of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

Commission Chair Rebeca Sosa, Daniella Levine Cava, and Xavier Suarez voted “no.”

Bruno Barreiro, Jose “Pepe” Diaz, Barbara Jordan, Jean Monestime, and Dennis Moss joined Edmonson and Heyman in voting “yes.”

Commissioner Javier Souto missed Tuesday’s vote; he was also absent Nov. 5, causing the tie.

Of those who voted yes on SkyRise, Diaz, Heyman and Monestime are up for re-election this year; Berkowitz and associated companies gave each $5,000 in contributions.

Gimenez, who made SkyRise a top priority this fall, was part of the effort to bolster “yes” votes for Tuesday’s meeting. Hours earlier, Gimenez was able to gain approval for about $570 million in Miami Beach property taxes up to 2044 to fund major renovations of the city’s convention center complex.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.