Homestead / South Dade


Homestead approves study for downtown tower

A theme-park-style ride may soon rise in Homestead’s historic downtown now home to a for-profit college campus, a long-shuttered movie theater built in 1921, empty lots and Mexican restaurants.

The monolithic attraction is a modern marvel: 560 feet of steel rising toward the sky. The ride takes visitors up in a glass-enclosed observatory, which rotates full circle at the tower’s top to give views of Everglades and Biscayne national parks, southern Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys.

On Wednesday night, the City Council voted 6-0 to pay a Dallas-based entertainment and tourism consulting company, Leisure and Recreation Concepts, $32,000 to create a more comprehensive plan for the tower. LARC has about four months to come back to the city with a traffic flow and phasing plan, storyboards and details of the construction cost.

Earlier this year, the city paid LARC $38,000 for a study that ultimately determined the project would be financially sustainable once it opens based on the cost of operation and the revenues the available market would bring.

To accompany the tower ride, LARC is also proposing restaurants, shops and a theater that simulates an airboat or a canoe ride on the Everglades.

“It is important for people to realize that this is not a stand-alone project,” said Vice Mayor Stephen Shelley. “This is part of a bigger plan.”

For years the city has tried to breathe life to its downtown.

Only recently, it agreed to pour more money – $42,000 – for a company to do a study on what can be done with the Seminole Theatre. But when the historic theater will re-open is still unknown. Before that, Homestead paid $1 million for a Coral Gables-based architecture company, Rodriguez and Quiroga Architects Chartered, to design the proposed 60,000-square-foot City Hall slated to open on downtown’s Washington Avenue. Most recently, a Dade Medical College campus opened in downtown. Project supporters boasted that the school, founded by Ernesto Perez, would turn downtown Homestead into a mini-Georgetown.

The tower ride and simulation theater, dubbed the ‘iconic attraction’, would serve as an anchor for downtown’s economic revitalization as tourist will trickle into the depressed area and more businesses will open, supporters say.

Shelley told the Miami Herald that this project is different from other ambitious plans the city has embarked on in the past. How? This time, Homestead will call the shots.

“Everything else has been one developer come in, buys land and tries to do something. This is the first city-driven project.”

Councilwoman Judy Waldman did not vote on this item because she left the meeting early, but she also told the Miami Herald that she is “excited” for this project.

According to an LARC report submitted to the city, an all-inclusive use of the park, including the tower ride and simulation theater, will cost $18.95 for adults, $13.95 for children and $15.95 for senior citizens. Park patrons can use only the tower ride or the theater for cheaper. These numbers are projected figures for 2016.

LARC also says that the revenue from the park will be about $10.7 million in 2016 from ticket and food sales as well as from rentals of the park for events.

While an exact location for the project has not been picked, LARC has been looking at an empty city-owned lot northwest of Flagler Avenue.

Mayor Jeff Porter said he would prefer for the city to lease, instead of sell, the land, so taxpayers do not lose the asset.

In other decision at the meeting, the City Council pulled the plug on two ongoing city projects:

• The council voted 5-0 to reject all five applications submitted for the construction of the new City Hall slated for Washington Avenue in downtown, to re-issue the application solicitation and to waive a local-preference law from the solicitation. This time, the application solicitations will be a straight bid where the lowest qualified bidder wins the project, as opposed to a request for proposals where the project is not necessarily awarded to the lowest bidder.

In addition, the city will waive a local-preference clause that allows for a 15 percent cost advantage to a local bidder as long as the company is willing to match the price of the lowest non-local bidder. Staff hopes to come back with a complete pool of applicants by spring.

• The council did not approve a contract with Elite Real Estate Investments for the purchase and renovation of the city-owned bowling alley, now shuttered, dark and dank.

Councilwoman Patricia Fairclough-McCormick said that while she was in favor of Elite's proposal to re-open the bowling alley, the city did not follow the formal process of soliciting applications through a request for proposals. She offered a three-month extension so that the city can formalize the process. That motion failed 4-2. Then, the council deadlocked when it came time to vote on the proposed contract.

Porter did not vote on the item, saying he may have a conflict of interest.

The future of the bowling alley is up for discussion at the upcoming committee of the whole meeting scheduled for Jan.14. Elite had offered $500,000 to the city for the bowling alley. Former Mayor Steve Shiver represents the company as well as one of the firms that had applied for the City Hall project.

Read more Homestead / South Dade stories from the Miami Herald

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