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Miami Plans Island Home for Mega-Yachts

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Miami Plans Island Home for Mega-Yachts

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Miami Plans Island Home for Mega-Yachts

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Say what you want about the economy. We can tell you that business is booming for builders of mega-yachts. There is a problem though: a shortage of docks big enough to handle those boats.

NPR's Greg Allen reports from Miami.

GREG ALLEN: South Florida is known around the world for its beaches, its night life, palm trees, and Todd Nelson notes, its yachts.

Mr. TODD NELSON (Boat Captain): Every big boat in the country eventually shows up here.

ALLEN: Nelson is standing on the deck of the boat he captains. It's owned by a wealthy businessman from Tulsa. It's a sleek, white motor yacht - the Must Be Dreaming.

Mr. NELSON: She was built in 1998, out in Seattle. Cruise it about 1,000 miles without refueling. I tow a 38-foot tender to go fishing with, and I take two jet skis and an inflatable tender on deck.

ALLEN: Stepping into the main saloon, it's comfortable - polished wood furnishings and elegant decor you'd expect from a boat with a multimillion-dollar price tag.

Mr. NELSON: There are entertainment systems. There are couches. It's all covered with (unintelligible) that go outside.

ALLEN: I mean, we have granite countertops here, and looks like a very nice entertainment center.

Mr. NELSON: Right. We got a nice dining table. Got a full bar with an icemaker.

ALLEN: At 108 feet, the Must Be Dreaming looks huge when docked elsewhere. But here at Fort Lauderdale Sunrise Harbor Marina, it has lots of company, and many of the other boats are larger. Yachts this size used to be rare. Nowadays, yachts 200 feet, 300 feet, even 400 feet long are not unusual. They can command prices over $50 million. And even at that price, there's a shortage of boats just like there are shortage of places to keep them. Dave Culver is the marina manager at Sunrise Harbor.

Mr. DAVE CULVER (Marina Manager, Sunrise Harbor): We were built specifically to cater to the larger scale of the yachts. But again, there's just so many of them being built, and there's just nowhere in South Florida to really put them all. They have to call months ahead to even get a spot here.

(Soundbite of seagulls singing)

ALLEN: That's the kind of mega-yacht Marina Miami wants to build here on Watson Island. Today, the island in the shadow of Biscayne Bay is home to a few marinas, a children's museum and Parrot Jungle Island, a tourist attraction. But Mehmet Bayraktar thinks Watson Island can be much more.

Mr. MEHMET BAYRAKTAR (Developer, Watson Island): There is no other location to compare in South Florida.

ALLEN: Bayraktar is a developer, originally from Turkey, with plans to build a $480 million complex on Watson Island. The centerpiece would be a 50-slip, mega-yacht marina, capable of handling boats up to 465 feet long. The development would also include two high-rise hotel towers, shopping and restaurant space, a museum and a park. Bayraktar says when it's complete, Miami will rival Monaco, St. Tropez and St. Barts as a mega-yacht destination.

Mr. BAYRAKTAR: It's a place for everyone. You can be basically, coming there for a cup of coffee. You can have your $50 million yacht brought there for a week or three months of the year, or you can be sleeping any of the hotels.

ALLEN: There's little question now that the project will be built. It was approved five years ago in a voter referendum. It has the approval of federal, state and local officials. But there are a few lone voices in Miami asking whether building a playground for the wealthy is really the best way to use public land.

Nancy Liebman is president of the Urban Environment League of Greater Miami.

Ms. NANCY LIEBMAN (President, Urban Environment League, Miami): Watson Island is one of the most gorgeous pieces of property with a 360-degree water view. No wonder there's a developer trying to grab up the land.

ALLEN: The Miami-Dade County Commission still has to approve a dredging permit for the marina. County Commissioner Carlos Gimenez was Miami's city manager when he helped sell the idea to the public five years ago.

Mr. CARLOS GIMENEZ (County Commissioner, Miami-Dade County): So what we wanted to do with Watson Island was to create a destination, and also leave some open spaces so that people would come to the island and enjoy the waterfront. And then Watson Island will become alive, you know, where in the past, it was basically just a dead island.

ALLEN: Gimenez says there are just a few details that need to be resolved before the project can go forward. Nancy Liebman says at this point, the most her group can hope for are some guarantees that the Watson Island Development will truly welcome everyone, not just millionaire owners of mega-yachts.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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