RIVIERA BEACH — A long-standing dispute over the future of the Riviera Beach Municipal Marina appeared to have come to a resolution in early March when Wayne Huizenga Jr., son of the billionaire former owner of the Miami Dolphins, announced he was dropping his proposal to lease and develop the facility.
That was just days before Riviera Beach residents went to the polls in a referendum seeking to overturn the outcome of a November ballot that had rejected industrial business at the marina.
At the press conference, Huizenga made a surprise announcement —that he was no longer considering the city marina as a base for a mega-yacht servicing business. Instead, he said, he will locate it on land he owns about nine miles away.
Then voters approved the referendum clearing the way for Huizenga to proceed with his original plan to lease the city facility. Residents were left pondering whether the outcome of the referendum will mean he got what he wanted.
At least two activists think he did and that company Rybovich, a mega-yacht servicer, will swallow up the prime public property.
Emma Bates, whose Citizen’s Task Force has opposed the lease proposal, said she does not believe the public marina issue is dead.
“I don’t trust Rybovich,” she said.
She believes now that voters have paved the way for big business at the marina, Huizenga will want to revert back to his original plan to lease the city property.
Tina White, who says she is not against development, just against the Rybovich proposal, sees it as a bad deal for the city.
“As far as I’m concerned,” she said about the press conference, “it was just a big political ruse.”
Huizenga owns Rybovich Superyacht Marina in West Palm Beach. The Riviera Beach project would be a similar venture and cost $45.5 million to develop. Huizenga has touted it as a major job-creator that would produce 1,000 jobs, likely paying around $45,000 per year, and the facility will service yachts from around the world. Another 3,000 jobs would result from trickle-down employment, he said at the press conference.
Those are among the reasons Hastings and West said they supported Huizenga’s plan. They both noted at the press conference that they are usually on opposite sides of issues, but came together in a bipartisan effort because of the project’s potential economic impact on South Florida.
“When a great project of this magnitude comes along with massive potential to provide long-term job growth and economic development to a region, we need to do everything that we possibly can to make sure it happens,” said Hastings, whose district includes Riviera Beach. “The residents of the 23rd Congressional District need this project.”
West said he plans to do what he can to ensure the project becomes a reality.
“The City Council will need the continuing support of not only the community, but also of the county, state, and federal entities in order to make job creation a reality in Riviera Beach,” West said. “I plan to fully engage to make sure this happens for the people of Riviera Beach and Palm Beach County.”
West’s district includes parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Central to the controversy, though, is how the impact will affect residents of the majority black city and the classic struggle between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”
“Because it’s a group of poor people, they feel we deserve no wealth, we don’t deserve anything – and we haven’t fought for anything because we didn’t know what to fight for in the past,” Bates said in a phone interview. “But, now, it’s a different story. And now you’re going to take the marina? You’re going to take everything that is going to give us a chance to do better?”
At one stage, Huizenga sued Bates for $10 million, accusing her of interfering with his business practices, but subsequently dropped the lawsuit.
The development drive is being spearheaded by Riviera Beach Council Chairwoman Dawn Pardo, who appeared with Huizenga, Hastings, West and West Palm Beach’s then outgoing Mayor Lois Frankel, among other officials, at the press conference.
Pardo, the only white member of the City Council, said she contacted Huizenga Jr. three years ago about bringing Rybovich to the city. She believed it would be good for Riviera Beach, bringing jobs and instant international recognition for a predominantly black city usually known more for crime. Pardo said she never imagined she’d receive opposition from residents. But it came. The people on the mainland, nearly all black, opposed having a rich billionaire family like the Huizengas coming in and taking over part of their city marina. Bates’ Citizen’s Task Force began leading the opposition to the plan.
Bates, who sees herself as “the little guy” up against all the giants, said Hastings called her prior to the election to say he wanted reconciliation on the marina issue, but she was not appeased.
But it has not all been opposition. Amon Yisrael, 54, who has lived in Riviera Beach for more than 40 years, said he is ready for growth and development. He said he was initially opposed to the Huizenga project, but when he learned the facts and the potential economic impact, he changed his mind.
Yisrael co-founded the Committee for a Better Riviera Beach to push the Huizenga plan.
“Rybovich located here would make our city an international destination and this would have a tri-county effect,” Yisrael said in a phone interview. “And, with Riviera Beach being the hub, this would mean new money coming into our city. Why wouldn’t anybody want this for our city? It would be a great thing. Ask the opposition what is their alternative.”
For Pardo, Huizenga’s decision to build on property which Rybovich owns means that everybody wins.
Huizenga, meanwhile, said he loves Riviera Beach, as it is his wife’s birthplace, and he wants to be good neighbors.
“That’s why we relocated our facility. The relocation will cost millions of dollars,” he said about his plan to shift his focus from the city marina. “We want to be part of the community and a business the community can be proud of.”
He is hoping to break ground on the new facility within a couple of years. The project will need various permits and some City Council approval.
Daphne Taylor may be reached at email@example.com