Watson Island, Miami

This article is about the neighborhood of Miami. For other uses, see Watson Island (disambiguation).
Watson Island
Neighborhood of Miami
MacArthur Causeway in the foreground

Map of Miami neighborhoods. Watson Island is the smallest light-blue area, just above the western end of the elongated light-blue Port of Miami area.
Country United States
State Florida
County Miami-Dade County
City Miami
Government
 • City of Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff
 • Miami-Dade County Commissioners Bruno Barreiro and Audrey Edmonson
 • House of Representatives Carlos Lopez-Cantera (R) and Luis García, Jr. (R)
 • State Senate Gwen Margolis (D)
 • U.S. House Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R)
Area
 • Total 0.280 sq mi (0.73 km2)
Time zone EST (UTC-05)
ZIP Code 33132
Area code(s) 305, 786

Watson Island is a neighborhood and man-made island in Biscayne Bay, in Miami, Florida, United States. Immediately east of the Omni neighborhood of Downtown Miami, it is connected to the mainland and South Beach, Miami by the MacArthur Causeway.

History

The island was deeded to the city in 1919 with the restriction that it only be used for public or municipal purposes. The city gave it to the state and the state deeded it back to the city with similar restrictions - both in the 1940's. In 1979 the city attempted to circumvent this prohibition by claiming that the underwater land surrounding the island is a preserve and Watson Island need not be protected as per the deed, as a park, or for public ownership and use.[1]

The island had a name change from Causeway Island to Watson Island, named for John W. Watson, Sr., who was Mayor of Miami 1912-1915 and 1917-1919. In 1932 Watson Island was considered for the site of Miami's Pan-American Exposition, a World's Fair and "International Merchandise mart." By the end of the 1940s, however, the site of the Exposition, now called Interama, was moved North to where Oleta River State Park is today.


The Goodyear Blimp base in Florida was located on Watson Island for many years. Vestiges of the old base still remain such as the imprint of the mooring circle and a paved path for a small tram that would transport passengers to the airship.[2]

Grand plans to develop the island started in 1979, with a planned amusement park, Diplomat World. Residents formed "Save Watson Island, Inc", a neighborhood group opposing the use for anything other than a park. They had public demonstrations and because of the demonstrations and a variety of other reasons, the amusement park was never built. [3]

Another development included one from the late 1990's, culminating in 2003 when Jungle Island relocated to Watson. There has been continued controversy stemming from Jungle Island's inability to meet the financing terms it had made with the local municipalities when the move was approved. Local elected officials had and continue to bail out Jungle Island with tax dollars. The Miami Children's Museum also relocated to the island, in 2004. The State of Florida offered a site in the Island Gardens project on Watson Island to host the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) Permanent Secretariat.[4] As of March, 2006 the Florida Department of Transportation was planning to construct a tunnel from the Port of Miami on Dodge Island under the main shipping channel to the MacArthur Causeway on Watson Island.[5] On May 24, 2010, construction began on the Miami Port Tunnel tunnel project.[6] The tunnel is set to be completed by 2014.

Current public facilities

Aviation Center
Chalk's International Airlines maintained a seaplane base on Watson Island from 1926 until it ceased operation in 2007. As of 2006, the City of Miami is relocating the Miami Heliport to a site adjacent to Chalk's seaplane base, with the intention of creating an Aviation Center serving corporate and tourism needs.[7]

Ichimura Miami – Japanese Garden
The Ichimura Miami - Japanese Garden grew out of the efforts of Kiyoshi Ichimura, who sent objects, materials and artisans from Tokyo to Miami in the 1950s to construct the San-Ai-An Japanese Garden on Watson Island. The garden opened in 1961. As of 2006, the garden was being redesigned and reconstructed.[8]

Jungle Island
Jungle Island opened its new facility on Watson Island in 2003. Originally named Parrot Jungle, the popular tourist attraction first opened in the Pinecrest neighborhood of Miami in 1936. Over the years, the attraction came to be a popular attraction for Miami residents and tourists, but that trend reversed once it moved to the smaller and less natural setting of Watson Island. Jungle Island has many fewer animals, and none of the old growth vegetation the original park was known for. Jungle Island hosts Miami's most popular event venue with its Treetop Ballroom.[9]

Miami Children's Museum
The Miami Children's Museum opened a new 56,500-square-foot (5,250 m2) facility on Watson Island in 2003. It has ten galleries, classrooms, birthday party rooms, a parent/teacher resource center, an educational gift shop, a 200-seat auditorium and a dining area.[10]

Miami Outboard Club
The Miami Outboard Club has been located on Watson Island since 1948. It is active in conservation and artificial reef programs, and provides social and educational activities. The club has boat slips, dry storage, a boat lift, a ramp for jet skis and other small craft, and a restaurant, bar and internet cafe.[11]

Miami Yacht Club
The Miami Yacht Club has been located on Watson Island since the late 1940s. It offers youth and adult sailing programs, and sponsors races, regattas and a Sea Scout ship. The club has boat slips, dry storage, and a lounge, bar and restaurant.[12]

Public Boat Ramp
There is a Public Boat Ramp with 50 oversized parking spaces for vehicles with boat trailers.[13]

Future planning

In 2001, voters approved a bond measurer for what many thought was a public park for Watson. Later, many insisted they were tricked by the wording of the measure, which in fact was for allowance of private commercial development and a large marina. Island Gardens
In 2004 the City of Miami Miami-Dade County approved Island Gardens, a $281 million, hotel and marina development on Watson Island. The development included two hotels with a total of 500 rooms, retail and restaurant space, and a marina serving mega yachts.[14] An environmental watchdog group sued to halt the project, unsuccessfully.

Between 2004 and 2010 Flagstone never met the terms of their agreement, but the city repeatedly forgave the developer, enabling them to keep right of development, extending the deadline for payments and eventually even enabling a larger development. [15] International developer Jorge Perez, was brought in as a partner in 2013, at which point the project jumped over three times, to a proposed $1B project. Two months later, Perez pulled out, citing, in part, concern regarding City of Miami Beach residents, that the project will cause traffic nightmares on the causeway between the two cities.

The project has gone through several incarnations, with several architectural firms involved. At one point, the developer requested a variance from the Federal Aviation Administration to create a no-fly zone over South Beach and the Port of Miami, to enable a high rise so high, jets would not be able to fly above the island. Miami Commissioner Sarnoff has spearheaded not only these developments, but also permission for giant electronic billboards -- visible for 20 miles in all directions -- to be built on Watson Island. Using the term "murals", these giant electronic screens will be visible 20 miles in all directions. Sarnoff has also been accused of attempting to surreptitiously upzone the island further, for the developer's benefit.

Although deeded to the city in 1919 as only to be municipal-owned and only for public use, in perpetuity; without resistance, Watson Island seems destined to be developed for very private, very luxury, and very high density and mostly private, use.

See also

References

Source

  • South Florida Business Journal

Coordinates: 25°47′05.0″N 080°10′33.0″W / 25.784722°N 80.175833°W / 25.784722; -80.175833

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