Regalado’s big lame-duck agenda yields few results

Big things can have small beginnings. But sometimes it works the other way around.

Take Tomás Regalado’s last summer as Miami’s mayor.

Heading into July, Regalado had lofty goals for his lame-duck administration. In his final chapter as mayor, he and his city manager pushed to lease and redevelop the city’s riverfront administrative headquarters next to I-95, help Jungle Island’s new owners build a theme park hotel, and launch a project with Hyatt to redevelop the James L. Knight Center property. As late as early September, they still held out hopes of awarding an $80 million marina project on Virginia Key.

It’s clear now that none of those things will happen. At least, not on his watch.

Regalado’s grand finale went out not with a bang but a whimper as commissioners over the last six weeks rejected the bulk of the mayor’s agenda by refusing to place most of it on the November ballot. They’ll allow voters — whose approval was needed on the projects for various reasons — to decide on a new lease for Monty’s Raw Bar and Marina in Coconut Grove, but punted on plans to allow Jungle Island’s hotel, told Hyatt executives to go back to the drawing board, and effectively stalled the Miami Riverside Center project by delaying the hiring of a law firm to lead negotiations.

On Friday, they delivered the latest blow, deferring a decision on the marina redevelopment without even giving the project a full hearing.

We’re at the point where most people are thinking about cleaning out their offices.

Barry University political science professor

“We’re at the point where most people are thinking about cleaning out their offices,” said Sean Foreman, a Barry University political science professor. “Quite literally the clock is running out on the Regalado administration and they can’t have high expectations that they’re going to get a lot done with limited political capital.”

Rarely willing to concede defeat, Regalado declared a moral victory after Friday’s meeting, saying the simple act of getting city commissioners to attend during the scheduled summer recess was worth celebrating in and of itself after a majority blew off a previous gathering.

“We won by bringing the five commissioners,” the mayor said. “It gave me the possibility of going to the voters and the people of Miami in the end of my term.”

To be fair, Regalado’s top priority is still alive.

The bond issue, to me, is historic. Especially after what we saw in Texas, I believe it’s Miami’s future.

Mayor Tomás Regalado

Voters will decide this November on a $400 million general obligation bond, nearly half of which will go to pay for storm sewer and pump upgrades needed as part of a billion-dollar plan to keep the city dry and functioning despite rising seas. Another $100 million will go toward affordable housing.

The “Miami Forever” bond, as the mayor has dubbed it, is the one summer initiative that Regalado has directly acknowledged as part of his legacy. He is already campaigning for it to pass (while also campaigning for his son, Tommy Regalado, to win a seat on the City Commission).

In the weeks since commissioners agreed to place the bond item on the ballot — after adding another $125 million in debt to the proposal — flooding has been in the news constantly. An unnamed storm left parts of Brickell and South Beach underwater in early August, and then Hurricane Harvey dumped biblical levels of rain on the Houston area in Texas.

“It’s my personal priority, the bond issue. That’s the biggest ticket,” Regalado said. “The bond issue, to me, is historic. Especially after what we saw in Texas, I believe it’s Miami’s future.”

But overall, most of the items Regalado hoped to land on the ballot were set aside by Miami’s commissioners, who weren’t swayed by Regalado’s urgency. They left his administration with little to show for its scrambled efforts to land a half-dozen major projects before a new mayor comes in and brings in a new team.

Though some initiatives were clearly driven by private companies, Foreman, the political science professor, said it’s hard not to look at the timing and question why the mayor didn’t act sooner.

But in the long run, none of these projects will necessarily die with Regalado’s tenure as mayor. The next mayor can always pick up where he left off.

The Regalado name just won’t be attached to the final product.