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Mehmet Bayraktar, the Turkish Developer Behind Long-delayed Luxury Resort
 on Miami's Watson Island, Seeking Extension from the City to Secure
 Financing for the $640 million Venture on City-owned Land

By Douglas Hanks, The Miami HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

December 16, 2009 --The developer behind a long-delayed luxury resort on Miami's Watson Island wants more time to secure financing for the $640 million venture on city-owned land.

Under pressure from city officials, Flagstone Island Gardens developer Mehmet Bayraktar on Tuesday offered $500,000 to cover back rent in exchange for extending deadlines to start construction on the marina, hotel and retail complex he's been trying to build the entire decade.

"We ask the City, in view of the global crisis we have seen, to work with Flagstone just as the Federal government has worked with financial companies needing funds," Flagstone lawyer Alexander Tachmes, of Shutts & Bowen, wrote to Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado.

Regalado this month signaled his growing impatience with the Island Gardens delays. The city commission is slated to discuss the matter at Thursday's weekly meeting.

Bayraktar's company has missed a string of monthly rental payments for the waterfront site this year, risking the loss of the development agreement.

His plan would transform Watson Island, the mostly barren home to Jungle Island and the Miami Children's Museum, into a vacation destination, with two hotels and a mall fronting a luxury "mega-yacht" marina. But despite a permitting, design and marketing effort that Flagstone said cost more than $40 million, construction crews never broke ground on the venture.

The letter signals that Bayraktar, a shopping-center magnate from Turkey, still wants to fight for the Island Gardens venture. The city imposed a February 2010 deadline for Bayraktar to start construction or risk the city offering the site to other developers.

The letter does not say how much more time Bayraktar wants. It says the developer has all the permits needed to start building but still lacks construction dollars for the effort. As part of an extension deal, according to the letter, Bayraktar would open Flagstone's books to show the company spent $46 million on the project, which Miami voters approved in a November 2001 referendum.

Marc Sarnoff, chairman of the City Commission, said he's skeptical of giving Bayraktar a lengthy extension but wants wants Miami to consider his offer. The project owes more than $400,000 in rent, Sarnoff said, and pays about $90,000 a month -- making the lease particularly valuable given Miami's dire budget squeeze.

"The city can't afford the loss of $1 million a year in rent," he said. "That's 10 police officers."


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