South Florida Business Journal - by Oscar Pedro-Musibay
Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones has sought private investors, including boxing promoter Don King, to partner with the city in creating a destination on Virginia Key that would help to pay for operations of a planned museum.
Don King met over the summer with officials of the Virginia Key Park Trust and a Spence-Jones staffer to discuss the Key, which was once a black-only beach.
The idea of developing a hotel came up, but the suggestion never got past the idea stage, said
David Shorter, the trust’s executive director.
Although the meeting took place several months ago, King’s interest in the developing part of Virginia Key only recently came to light after an anonymous e-mail was sent to various media, including the Business Journal, that included allegations against Spence-Jones and her family.
The sender did not respond to a request for information about the motive behind the e-mail’s timing.
The commissioner, who is running for re-election, would not comment on the personal allegations, but did explain King’s interest in the key.
The e-mail included an allegation that King made a deal with Spence-Jones to give her a portion of a hotel development on Virginia Key. Spence-Jones denied the allegation and said her motivation was purely tied to helping develop a museum there and the park’s overall mission of financial self-sustainability.
“There was never any type of agreement or understanding regarding Spence-Jones receiving anything from it,” she said. “I’m not crazy. That would land me in jail.”
Spence-Jones also has connected the trust with other high-profile players in entertainment who might help the trust generate funds for the museum and other expenses.
Another person who toured the site was high-profile entertainment attorney L. Londell McMillan, who has represented Prince, Stevie Wonder, Spike Lee, Michael Jackson and Kanye West. Shorter said that McMillan suggested developing retail on the site and was going to run the opportunity by some investors, but again the conversations did not turn into a proposal.
Onetime Essence Magazine editor and current real estate investor Susan L. Taylor also toured Virginia Key. Her vision for development involved building high-priced homes there, but that would have been in conflict with a county prohibition on erosion of the area’s environment. If certain county rules are violated, development and control of Virginia Key would revert to Miami-Dade County.
“The people that come here want to not buy into the history of the facility,” Shorter said. “What they want really to do is put structures here. There is a reverter [clause] that if it is not maintained as a park, it reverts to the county.”
Not so, says Spence-Jones, who maintains there is some flexibility in the county rules that would allow restaurants, a hotel and other development to coexist with the park.
Spence-Jones said there has to be a compromise between the environment, and the financial needs of the museum and the park or the vision for Virginia Key could die.
“There are several people that I pushed through,” said Spence-Jones, referring to King, McMillan and others. “It was about anybody that I knew that had the resources, that had the contacts to assist with the Key, to help redevelop it.”
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