With Island Gardens breaking ground momentarily, Mehmet Bayraktar of Flagstone Property Group is transforming Watson Island into a destination fit for the sophisticated denizens of Miami.
By Stephanie Wilson
Photography by Reynaldo Ales
“We are excited to bring a project to the city that will draw residents, visitors, and guests from all around the world. Super-yacht harbors are proven magnets for attracting crowds, as experienced in St. Tropez, Monte Carlo, and Monaco.”
Tranquility abounds at Watson Island, situated in the bay between downtown Miami and bustling South Beach. While The MacArthur Causeway cuts through the island, the southern part of the land is occupied by The Miami Children’s Museum, and to the north, Jungle Island garners its share of visitors. Outside of these two attractions, the island is scarcely used, with a small tourism heliport, some fish marts, and little else dotting the land.
Many have wondered on the trips to and from South Beach why such a prime piece of real estate was sitting undeveloped. With fantastic views of downtown’s ever-changing skyline alongside unprecedented vistas of the constant parade of cruise ships, how has this land sat empty for years? In fact, the land is owned by the city, and any development slated for the property must benefit Miami as a whole.
Mehmet Bayraktar, chairman and CEO of Flagstone Property Group, is set to break ground on a project that will indeed benefit the city in untold ways, allowing the growing (both in size and sophistication) city to amass a following of international travelers that will allow it to flourish like the yachting destinations of Saint-Tropez and Portofino.
Bayraktar comes from a family of entrepreneurs that is no stranger to the world of innovative developments that can redefine a city, or even a country, as is demonstrated by projects in their home land of Turkey. When he says, “Globally, everyone learns from one another, but it all starts with the individual,” there is little doubt that he is an individual that has, again and again, been a catalyst for change. With a family background in automotive manufacturing and distribution, it was Bayraktar’s vision for a waterfront complex in the city of Istanbul that revolutionized the way Turkish developments were made.
The Ataköy complex, located in Istanbul, was the brainchild of Bayraktar’s father, a second-generation entrepreneur, who, up until the early 1980s, had his hand firmly in the automotive industry. But, as Bayraktar explains, Turkey, long considered Europe’s best kept secret, was about to emerge from the shadows and claim its rightful place as a tourist destination… Unfortunately, while the country abounded with historical sites, it was lacking the modern luxurious amenities that enthrall the higher class of traveler.
In anticipation of the emergence, the Turkish government began opening some previously restricted sites up for development, and Bayraktar’s father saw a golden opportunity in one waterfront locale. He had visions for a mixed-use development that could revolutionize the way people in Turkey lived, worked, shopped, dined, and played. Bayraktar, who had just finished his schooling in the United States, came onboard at the beginning of the project and began working round the clock to ensure this project was an overwhelming success.
And it didn’t take long. Only 18 months after breaking ground on the complex, Ataköy (roughly translated to “Heritage Village”) was complete and 100 percent leased. Not only the largest shopping center in Turkey, it was the largest shopping center in all of Eastern Europe, with 700,000 square feet filled with two anchors, alongside 148 shops, an ice skating rink, food court, and more. Also on-site is the Ataköy Marina, the first commercially developed marina in all of Turkey, which offers spaces for 1,000 boats and yachts. It was also the first marina in Turkey awarded 5 Golden Anchors.
Bayraktar says, “Everything here was so new and so mind blowing… And its effect was that it made people start coming to Turkey. We built hotels and the marina, and the area was filled in by nightlife and restaurants, giving people the 24-hours of entertainment they need to make a world-class destination.”
Next came the innovative mixed-use Carousel in Bakirköy, an award-winning development that combines a children’s hospital with a shopping center, making it one of the first to combine retail and healthcare. Other projects ensued, all preparing Bayraktar and Bayraktar Holdings for transforming the barren plot of land situated in Biscayne Bay into one of the most ambitious projects in Miami. And in a city that is saturated with developments, that is a lofty statement.
In a manner like to the one that the Bayraktars encountered in Turkey, the land on Watson Island is in fact owned by the city of Miami. It was deeded to the city by the state in 1947 with one condition: it never be sold, no matter the price. The land is literally considered priceless and rightfully so. Bayraktar explains, “It was stated that should the property ever be developed, it should be done with a public purpose in mind, and I have the public’s purpose in mind.”
The anchor, so to speak, of that public purpose is North America’s first megayacht marina. “We are excited to bring a project to the city that will draw residents, visitors, and guests from all around the world. Super-yacht harbors are proven magnets for attracting crowds, as experienced in St. Tropez, Monte Carlo, and Monaco,” Bayraktar says. With deep navigation routes and no tidal restrictions for access, the harbor will provide a much-needed locale for the abundance of megayachts that need a place to dock.
And once these elite yachters enter Watson Island, are they expected to settle for the offerings at Jungle Island or the Children’s Museum? Heavens, no! Flagstone Property Group, which Bayraktar founded in 2001 to expand his family’s holdings in the U.S., is developing Island Gardens, a $600 million project, slated to be one of the largest waterfront developments in the world.
Aside from the marina, which will have 50 slips fit for yachts larger than 300-feet in length, Island Gardens will incorporate more than 221,000 square feet of high-end retail shops alongside the 150-room Shangri-La Hotel designed by world-renowned architect Piero Lissoni, who was inducted into the Interior Design Hall of Fame in 2005. The hotel suites, which will boast floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall windows, will allow the guests to drink in the unique views. As Bayraktar explains, “Because of the curvy-style of the building, you get more views, which are of downtown and South Beach and the Atlantic beyond.” While units on the beach can only offer views of downtown and vice versa, the versatile Watson Island locale provides both, giving a unique perspective to the beautiful sights that abound in Miami.
In addition to the hotel, Island Gardens will feature The Residences at Island Gardens Miami. The Residences rise above the hotel on the top 23 floors, and will be managed and serviced by the world-renowned Shangri-La Hotel and Resorts. The one- to four-bedroom units range from 850 to 3,700 square feet, and are sure to be the ultimate pied-a-terre for discerning real estate connoisseurs. The sales for the units will be done on a fractional basis, with eight fractions available per unit. The residences are set to provide the ultimate carefree lifestyle, with every need tended to. “You don’t have to worry about hiring an architect for a unit that you bought for millions of dollars, or managing the decorations, or upkeep when you aren’t here,” he explains. “You basically come in, the car service picks you up at the airport and takes you to your residence. If you desire or require, you have your refrigerator filled with your groceries, and everything is taken care of. And when you leave, it is like leaving your hotel room.”
Prospective buyers need not worry, they have not missed out on a chance to own this little piece of paradise: Island Gardens has not yet begun taking reservations for the units. As a main sponsor of Art Basel, they are going to unveil some intricate plans and open up sales during the international event.
Bayraktar is quick to point out, “Island Gardens is so much bigger than the names that are there. It is about a lifestyle.” A lot can be credited to the wondrous mind of the concept architect, Eric Kuhne of Eric R. Kuhne & Associates from London. “He is more than an architect, he is a philosopher,” Bayraktar muses. “He is into education and cultures, and what they do.” And so culture enriching devices have been worked in throughout the site, from the gardens curated by Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden to The Historical Museum of Southern Florida, both of which will enhance the stunning public spaces that will adorn the grounds at Island Gardens. In addition, the space will incorporate sculpture fountains, water exhibits, and a landscaped promenade and extensive roof gardens, adding to the notion that this property is being created for the benefit of Miami as a whole.
The enormous project is expected to be complete in 2010, and Bayraktar is quick to remind us of how quickly his family was able to build the Ataköy Complex (18 months from groundbreaking to the doors opening.) Thanks to Bayraktar’s extensive global experiences, Island Gardens is sure to attract a sophisticated crowd to the city. As Bayraktar says, “It’s taken some planning, but Miami deserves it.” Yes, we do.