The City Commission was expected to vote this month on whether to partner with one or more teams to build shops, apartments, restaurants and cultural venues on three city parking lots.
But interim City Manager Kathie Brooks yanked the vote off the commissionâ€™s July 18 agenda after Lincoln Road Development LLC, which was ranked fourth of four, said Miami Beachâ€™s selection committee should have discussed the competing offers in a public meeting.
City lawyers says theyâ€™re not convinced the city violated Floridaâ€™s Sunshine Law as alleged, but it may be better to play it safe and hold a do-over meeting or re-start the bidding process.
â€œIf weâ€™re going to err, weâ€™re gong to err on the side of Sunshine,â€ said City Attorney Jose Smith.
Brooks pulled the vote off the table on July 5 after the city received letters from attorney Rafael Andrade, a lobbyist for Lincoln Road Development, in which he raised concerns about the city committee that evaluated and ranked proposals on May 11.
Andrade said the city should have publicly noticed the meeting and opened committee deliberations to the public. He also said the committee failed to consider the benefits of a hotelier on Lincoln Road Developmentâ€™s team, and that the committeeâ€™s chairwoman failed to â€œdisclose her associationâ€ with the leading bidder.
â€œIt would be in the cityâ€™s best interest for the administration to declare the evaluation committeeâ€™s recommendation null and void,â€ Andrade wrote on July 3.
Smith said Brooks, who declined to comment, is now weighing her options, out of caution.
What that means for the teams of bidders is unclear.
For now, as the committeeâ€™s recommendations still stand, developer Robert Wennettâ€™s team âˆšNo11i remains the frontrunner to partner with the city on a $59 million project to build apartments, restaurants and shops on the two city lots on either side of Lenox Avenue. Terranova Corp.â€™s second-ranked team proposed a $131 million project. The third-ranked Tri-Star projected its development costs at $100 million. Lincoln Road Developmentâ€™s costs were estimated at $40.5 million.
Wennett referred questions to a member of his staff, who didnâ€™t return calls for comment.
Attempts to reach Terranova and Tri-Star representatives through their attorneys were unsuccessful.
Evaluation committee chairwoman Elsie Howard, however, said Andradeâ€™s criticisms of her â€œassociationâ€ with Wennett, as well as her husbandâ€™s, are off-base.
Andrade said Howard should have disclosed that she is associated with several companies that, according to Florida records, have their principal place of business at Wennettâ€™s 1111 Lincoln Road. Howard said she leases an office in that building, but â€œIâ€™m not sure he [Wennett] even knows my name.â€
â€œIâ€™m insulted by the insinuation,â€ she added.
As for the alleged Sunshine Law violation, Smith said the issue Andrade raised stems over â€œa difference of opinion as to whether the deliberations of the committee have to be in the Sunshine.â€
The law that regulates meetings in which contractors reveal information about a sealed bid or negotiate with representatives of a government says â€œany portion of a meeting at which a negotiation with a vendor is conducted pursuant to a competitive solicitation, at which a vendor makes an oral presentation as part of a competitive solicitation, or at which a vendor answers questions as part of a competitive solicitation is exempt fromâ€ the Sunshine Law.
Miami Beach interpreted that law, which was changed last year, to mean that the entire meeting must be recorded but closed to the public.
Other governments, however, have closed only portions of the meeting. For instance, the city of Miami recently allowed the public to view portions of a committee tasked with evaluating proposals for new development at the Scottyâ€™s Landing site in Coconut Grove.
â€œThere arenâ€™t yet any Attorney General (or other) opinions, or case law, on point to provide guidance, so this is, in many ways, a new issue for local governments,â€ Raul Aguila, Chief Deputy City Attorney and the current head of the cityâ€™s purchasing department, wrote in an email.
That issue could have broader implications for the city, which also closed its $1 billion convention center redevelopment evaluation committee to the public.
â€œNobody has asserted a challenge to the convention center process,â€ said Smith. â€œBut itâ€™s probably a matter of time before somebody does.â€