Boat builder pulled out over Riviera uncertainty

RIVIERA BEACH Rybovich and Sons pulled its boat-building plans rather than risk rejection by a city council expecting the yachtmaker to agree to providing jobs and a training program as a condition of its approval.

The decision came just hours before the council was scheduled to vote Wednesday on the yachtmaker's project, which touted bringing 60 jobs to the city. Debate over those jobs and whether Rybovich was willing to commit in writing to a training program for residents kept the council from approving the project Aug. 2.

Rybovich's announcement surprised and further divided an already polarized mayor and council. Each side blames the other for derailing a project that a month ago had unanimous support from the council.

Carlos Vidueira, senior vice president of Rybovich, said the yachtmaker opted to pull out because several key decisions involving the city's $2.4 billion waterfront redevelopment were still up in the air. Critical to Rybovich was the council's decision on renewing the contracts of California consultant Bernard Kinsey and Community Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Floyd Johnson.

Both men along with City Manager Bill Wilkins represented Riviera Beach in negotiations with Rybovich. Kinsey, the city's chief negotiator, was tossed into the Rybovich fray to reach an agreement that included some community benefits.

"There are some significant negotiations going on," said Vidueira, who flew to Los Angeles a week ago to negotiate with Kinsey. "We'd like to wait and see the outcome."

Late Wednesday, the council voted 3-2 to renew Kinsey's contract for another six months, bringing his total 12-month contract to $864,000. The former Xerox executive was hired in May to strike deals with master developer Viking Inlet Harbor Properties and Ocean Mall Redevelopment.

Johnson will face the council, sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, on Wednesday, when it is scheduled to vote on his $165,000 annual contract. Three of the five members Vanessa Lee, Norma Duncombe and Jim Jackson have publicly opposed renewing Johnson's contract.

Kinsey's contract, which has been a lightning rod of controversy, has his critics claiming that his entry into the Rybovich negotiations forced the yachtmaker to withdraw. They contend that Johnson brought Rybovich to the table and should have been allowed to pull off the deal without any interference from Kinsey.

But Mayor Michael Brown believes the move was a strategic one by Rybovich. Wayne Huizenga Jr., who owns Rybovich, has invested too much money in Riviera Beach buying land at more than three times its value to just walk away, he said.

"People are not used to a community like ours having the upper hand in negotiations," Brown said. "I am hopeful they are regrouping."

For Vidueira, it's those mixed messages that made Rybovich reluctant to move forward with plans to build a six-story boat-building center at 20th Street and Broadway. Huizenga began buying properties in the Community Redevelopment Agency area in late 2005 and planned to factor heavily in the city's redevelopment efforts.

Bob Healey, chairman of Viking Inlet Harbor Properties and the city's master developer for the agency, said he reached out to Rybovich in an effort to help the company satisfy the city's demands. Healey offered to make Rybovich a partner in the Riviera Beach Maritime Academy, a Viking-sponsored charter school that recently opened to train high school students to work in the marine industry.

While Rybovich liked the school and asked Healey for its budget information, Vidueira never made a commitment to join Viking. Healey believes that the council might have supported the Rybovich project if members knew the two were working together.

"I just think they (Rybovich) got overwhelmed by the overall demands the city was placing on them," said Healey, whose company as master developer is negotiating with Kinsey to develop 400 acres along the Intercoastal Waterway.

Vidueira acknowledged that the employees needed to staff businesses such as Rybovich don't currently exist in the city.

"We would need to create the Rybovich staff of the future through job-training programs," Vidueira said. "Right now, we're still evaluating what our options are."