Boat show operator sues Bahia Mar promoters

Fort Lauderdale residents may have been surprised when a colorful flyer recently appeared in the mail proclaiming that a senior executive at the city’s international boat show is backing a billion-dollar redevelopment plan for the resort town. from Bahia Mar, where the annual extravaganza takes place.

The show and the developer clashed for months over the development’s impact on the show.

Late last year, the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, which owns the show, told city commissioners that the proposed development could force them to hold smaller shows at a cost of $2 million in profit per year.

But the flyer distributed by the promoter noted that Andrew Doole, president of Informa Markets, which runs the show, told the city that a new plan for Bahia Mar “is a better plan for the boat show with more ‘space”.

Now the Marine Industries Association of South Florida and Yachting Promotions Inc. are suing the developer, Rahn Bahia Mar LLC, and the city, alleging the developer made false statements that show boat show operators support the Bahia Mar redevelopment project. , “when Bahia Mar is fully aware that the claimants do not support its current proposal.”

For months, boat show operators and developers have clashed over the impact the redevelopment proposal could have on the show’s ability to deliver major economic benefits each year to the marine industry, South Florida. and the state as a whole. “In 2021, despite the continued [COVID-19] global pandemic,” the suit reads, “the boat show contributed approximately $1.8 billion to the Florida economy, including $709.7 million in estimated sales by Florida businesses, with $233.9 million dollars in sales estimated by companies based in Broward County.

The show has operated at the Bahia Mar site since 1983, and last year the developer paid $6.3 million to lease the space.

In its lawsuit filed in Broward Circuit Court, the association and the promotions company claim that a “gag clause” in their lease with the promoter prevents them from setting the record straight. The shipping companies “have been deprived of their fundamental rights to freedom of expression”, the lawsuit claims.

“As a result, the plaintiffs have been unable to correct the false and misleading statements regarding their positions regarding the boat show proposals, leaving the city and the public without the information necessary to make an informed decision on the redevelopment project. of Bahia Mar,” the lawsuit alleges.

The suit asked the court to postpone an April 5 city commission hearing on the redevelopment plan until the association and the development company can feel comfortable talking without any repercussions.

Several passages from the lawsuit are redacted because the companies don’t believe they can legally make their positions public.

In a telephone interview on Wednesday, James Tate, co-founder of North Miami’s Tate Capital LLC and developer of the Bahia Mar project, said “there is no gag clause in their lease agreement. We have no idea what they are talking about.

He said a previous lease contained a clause prohibiting derogatory language, but that was removed in 2017. “We said you can speak freely, openly and honestly as long as it’s a place public and as long as we are invited.”

“At the end of the day, we all live in the sandbox,” he added. “We all have to play fair and nice.”

Regarding the support the flyer cited from Andrew Doole, Tate referenced a video of Doole speaking at a December 2021 city commission meeting.

“Andrew Doole said, ‘yes it’s a good plan, yes it’s good,'” Tate said.

Doole could not be reached for comment.

The Marine Industries Association referred questions to Fort Lauderdale attorney Sigrid McCawley of the law firm Boies Schiller Flexner, who filed the suit Monday.

“The boat show brings billions of dollars to our local economy and it is essential that the public and their elected officials are fully informed before making a decision, which is why Marine Industries of South Florida and Yachting Promotions Inc. have brought this trial for a declaration of their right to be able to speak freely about the Bahia Mar proposal,” she said in a statement to the Sun Sentinel.

“Private contracts are not allowed to remove someone’s ability to provide city officials with key information,” she added. “In our democracy, it is crucial that elected officials have a full and accurate recitation of the facts before making decisions affecting public rights.”

The city, which is named in the lawsuit as a “nominal defendant” because of its land ownership, declined to comment Wednesday night.

“This is a dispute between Rahn Bahia Mar and the Marine Industries Association and Informa,” City Manager Chris Lagerbloom said in an emailed message. “The city has no comment.”

According to the lawsuit, the companies notified Bahia Mar on March 8 “that its statements were false and defamatory,” but Bahia Mar “refused to withdraw its false statements.”

“At the same time, Bahia Mar’s interpretation of the gag clause excludes [the companies] to issue their own corrective statements to the city and the general public,” the lawsuit alleges. “Due to the false public declarations of Bahia Mar and the application of the gag clause, [the companies] are denied their basic right to petition the government under the First Amendment and Article I, Section 5 of the Florida Constitution, and are denied a reasonable opportunity to be heard” under the law of the state.

The companies say they will “suffer irreparable harm” if they are prevented from commenting on Bahia Mar’s proposal before the municipal commission meets.

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In a January comment published in the Sun Sentinel, Tate, his brother, Kenneth, and Sergio Rok, a Bahia Mar co-developer, wrote that the developers and the community “All share the same common goal, which is to transform the jewel of a Fort Lauderdale property into a world-class luxury resort hotel, community and marina, with most of the property dedicated to public use. .”

“For the first time ever, our lease project is setting up a community trust fund to ensure that a portion of the money generated by Bahia Mar is redirected to our most needy residents,” the men wrote. “In addition, our development will create 6,380 construction and trade jobs for Fort Lauderdale residents, creating more than $375 million in new household income for our working-class residents. The net present value of the proposed lease exceeds $300 million, all of which belongs to the city.

Fort Lauderdale has owned the land since 1947, when it purchased the site from the federal government for $600,000. The entire parcel is 38.65 acres, with 15.96 acres of upland and 22.69 acres of boat dockage. In 1962, the city leased the site to the private sector. The lease was last updated in 1995.

A flyer lays out the developer's case to support its plans for a major redevelopment of Bahia Mar in Fort Lauderdale.  The flyer recently landed in the mailboxes of city residents.

The current lease, held by Rahm Bahia Mar, earns the city $1.7 million a year in rent. The lease ends in 2062.

The Tate has been granted permission – granted by prior commission in 2017 – to build 651 rental apartments as well as a new hotel, shops, restaurants and a marina village.

But the developer wants a new 50-year lease with a 50-year extension so it can fund four luxury condo towers with 350 units.

Tate offered to raise the rent from $1.7 million to $3.7 million a year. Many say it’s not enough, and the city has asked for a new assessment.

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