Riviera vote to extend lease brings calls of fight

RIVIERA BEACH The city council set the stage Wednesday night for a fight with Singer Island residents either at the ballot box or the courthouse after approving a city charter amendment that increases the lease on the public beach from 50 to 99 years.

The 4-1 vote, with councilman Jim Jackson dissenting, also moves the city a step closer to striking a $280 million deal with builder Dan Catalfumo to renovate the aging Ocean Mall and put a 28-story Marriott hotel/condos on Singer Island.

The council, sitting as the community redevelopment agency board, is scheduled to vote on the project at its Oct. 11 meeting.

If approved, it would be the first major effort in the city's $2.4 billion waterfront redevelopment plan.

Overall, Riviera Beach officials want to turn some 400 acres of mostly blight into an area bustling with shops, restaurants, hotels, an aquarium, marina and condominiums.

Council members tried to reassure residents that extending the lease did not mean they were giving away the public beach. But they said the decision was necessary in order to show good-faith in the negotiations with the developer.

"The challenge is for the developer to prove that they need the 99 years," Councilwoman Vanessa Lee said.

Catalfumo has said the council had to extend the lease in order to obtain financing for the project. Under the proposed agreement, Riviera Beach will lease its 11-acre beach to Catalfumo for 50 years with an automatic 49-year renewal.

After 30 years, the city will have the opportunity to buy the Ocean Mall portion of the project.

The plan calls for Ocean Mall Redevelopment to construct 125 hotel rooms and 250 resort condominiums housed in a 300-foot-high building. Some 60,000 square feet of shops and restaurants would replace the mall, which was built in the 1970s.

In 1972, the city began leasing the beachfront property to the Brock family.

At that time, city officials put the 50-year cap on the lease and made it a part of the city charter.

With some 16 years remaining on the lease, Brock sold it to Catalfumo's group in August for $9.5 million.

However, before a single shovel is placed into the ground, Singer Island residents vowed to block the project. Some 10 residents, including some from the mainland, spoke in opposition of changing the charter.

Bill Contole, president of Citizens for Responsible Growth for Riviera Beach, said the council was ignoring the will of the people and that his group was preparing to challenge the council's decision.

"Each of you is going to be held accountable," Contole said. "People all over this city are joining together to say we don't want this."

In fact, longtime black activists Herman McCray and Bishop Thomas Masters also spoke against the council extending the lease. They urged the body to allow voters to decide whether the charter should be changed.

To bring the issue to referendum, Contole's group will need 10 percent of the city's registered voters.

Contole plans to meet with City Clerk Carrie Ward about the issue today.

"We're all going to be in court over something that's totally unnecessary," Contole said.