Miami’s Watson Island becomes a hopping party spot for superyacht owners.
By Michelle F. Solomon
The Deck at Island Gardens has become the place to see and be seen. It draws the global yachting circuit and Miami’s nightlife crowd, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg of what Mehmet Bayraktar has in store for Watson Island.
He has visions of Miami becoming North America’s newest superyachting capital and has already assured that status by creating the United States’ first marina built for mega yachts. Currently in full swing and accepting superyachts, Island Gardens Deep Harbour opened last January and can hold up to 50 superyachts, up to 550 feet in length.
Add to that the building of a $1-billion mixed-use development at one of Miami’s most desirable locations, and the latest luxury entertainment and lifestyle destination on Biscayne Bay is well on its way.
Bayraktar, chairman and CEO of Flagstone Property Group, will create 221,000 square feet of retail and restaurant offerings on the island — plus hotel and residential space. He received approval from the city in 2001 for his development on the coveted piece of land. According to the developer, the entire Island Gardens project should be completed by 2018. Building is expected to commence this fall.
“We knew there were plans for museums, performing arts centers, and downtown buildings that would open that would be in close proximity to our location. We did have naysayers in the beginning that said, ‘This is not Miami. This is not Miami Beach.’ And when you’d say that Island Gardens will be on Watson Island, people would ask questions on how they would get there,” he recalls. ” ‘Do you take a ferry? Do you swim there?’ ” he jokes. Unlike Fisher Island, which does require a ferry to go from the mainland, Watson Island is easily accessible just off Miami’s MacArthur Causeway. Bayraktar says that since the creation of the Deep Harbour and The Deck, which draw visitors, “People are saying, ‘Now I get it.’ ”
On a recent Friday evening, The Deck at Island Gardens was hopping with its Night Dinner Party series, where guests were mingling amid cuisines inspired by global yachting destinations. Sundays at The Deck has drawn visitors such as sports figures Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen and other celebrities who sail in on their mega yachts for brunch and sometimes stay until later in the day for the ultra exclusive sunset party that continues to 1:00 a.m. There’s also that amazing view of downtown Miami across miles of beautiful blue water.
The developer said that by enlisting Miami nightlife entrepreneurs Michael Capponi and Eric Milon, The Deck has become a hotspot. “I wanted to build on the landsite where we have a showroom and a lounge to bring life to the marina, so it doesn’t only serve the boat owners and visitors — but it also provides a taste of what’s coming.”
So what else can we expect from Island Gardens? According to Bayraktar, plans include 500 hotel rooms in two branded hotels. The developer says he is in final discussions with interested, recognizable, name-brand hoteliers. “Two hundred of those will be in luxury towers. Below the first two floors of the luxury tower will be a yacht club for dining and drinking.”
A luxury, furnished residence building will accommodate only 100 residential units and will be a concierge-driven property. Bayraktar wants the residence to have a boutique feel and to be exclusive in nature — fully furnished with hotel quality interiors — he says. “Usually, when you buy a condominium and you are a regular visitor, if it is your second or third home, you have to take care of many things — get it decorated, furnished. None of this is going to be the case at Island Gardens. The residents will arrive and can come to us as they are. We will provide all of the services. Just bring yourself and your family. Enjoy your residence, go away, and come back again.”
Between the two towers of the hotel, Bayraktar says there will be 14 restaurants, 70 boutiques, and on the waterfront, a Mediterranean market inspired by his native Turkey and a fish market.
Watson Island is also home to a seaplane base, and Bayraktar points out is “the only place in Miami-Dade that you can land a helicopter.” He insists that once everything is completed, Island Gardens will be the only place in Miami where you can arrive by land, sea, or air.
Additionally, he has plans to launch a water taxi. “The only thing we won’t have on the island is a place to drop from a parachute,” he says in jest.
Bayraktar is building what he calls a “destination,” which he says will draw “like-minded people to an amusement park for adults. This will be a place for everyone — not just boaters, but for people who want to experience a wonderful environment. There are unique qualities to Watson Island that no other place has. It can be very private, but at the same time, be accessible to everyone.”