As the American Dream Miami project gains political momentum, county planners have yet to reach detailed agreements with developers on how to address the flood of cars that would stream into what would be the country’s largest mall.
Miami-Dade’s Planning Advisory Board on Wednesday voted 10-1 to send the project on to the County Commission for preliminary approval next month, with the lone dissenting vote coming from a member who said he thought the timeline seemed too tight for a thoughtful decision.
“There is not enough time,” said board member Tom Sherouse, who cast the only no vote against the six-million-square-foot retail theme park by Triple Five, the Canada firm that built Minnesota’s Mall of America. “Why is it coming up now when so many of these important, complex questions — which have been on the table for months and months and months — are still at issue?”
Mark Woerner, the county’s planning chief, told board members his staff still hasn’t received a definitive list of road projects Triple Five says should be part of the traffic plan for the $5 billion project on 200 acres where I-75 meets the Florida Turnpike near Miami Lakes.
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The developer also hasn’t agreed to which projects it would cover as part of its impact-fee package for transforming the vacant wetlands and pastures into the largest retail project in Miami-Dade’s history.
Why is it coming up now when so many of these important, complex questions — which have been on the table for months and months and months — are still at issue?
Planning Advisory Board member Tom Sherouse
A larger version of the Mall of America, American Dream plans for an indoor ski slope, submarine rides in a domed lake, a Ferris wheel, water park and 2,000 hotel rooms in Northwest Miami-Dade. It’s pursuing approval with an adjoining commercial and residential project by the Graham Cos., the Miami Lakes developer that sold Triple Five the bulk of its Miami-Dade land.
Without the detailed road-project list and other agreements, Woerner’s agency stopped short of endorsing the project in its report to county commissioners; instead, the staff recommended the commission vote in January to send the application on to state agencies for review, and then make a final decision in April.
Woerner said talks with Triple Five continue, and that the timing is fairly typical for a larger project like American Dream Miami. “We always have concerns,” Woerner said. “The applications aren’t always wrapped up in a nice bow….”
Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, the land-use lawyer and former state senator spearheading Triple Five’s lobbying effort, said American Dream Miami has the most to lose if traffic becomes a problem and is committed to assembling a detailed plan to stave off congestion. “We don’t have any plans to open unless the traffic works,” he said.
The company has already identified two primary fixes: a new interchange on the Florida Turnpike at 170th Street and an expanded interchange on I-75 at Miami Gardens Drive.
“This is really the beginning of the journey,” Diaz de la Portilla told the board. “This is a very long process.”
With its vote, the Planning Advisory Board accepted staff’s recommendation to forward the American Dream and Graham Cos. application to commissioners without an endorsement but to encourage the commission to send it on for state review. Board members voting yes sounded enthusiastically in favor of the plan.
“This is a no-brainer,” said member Georgina Santiago. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
One outstanding issue is who would pay for the interchanges, highway widening and other infrastructure costs that would help accommodate an estimated 30 million visitors a year and about 70,000 vehicles a day. The county’s bus system would be expanded to serve the American Dream site at a cost about $3 million a year; there are no plans to extend rail there.
Triple Five sees American Dream as a boost to Miami-Dade’s quality of life by offering an Orlando-style attraction within a short drive. Supporters at the public hearing before Wednesday’s vote urged members to give Triple Five the chance to provide a cheaper alternative to Disney World vacations.
This is a no-brainer. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Planning Advisory Board member Georgina Santiago
“I want the mall here. I want to spend my money here,” said David Berdugo, who runs a manufacturing business in Doral. “I don’t want to go to Orlando. I don’t want to go to Tampa.”
But Derek Cintron, a professional musician from Miami Lakes, said it was foolish to think the area’s already congested highways could handle an attraction so large, no matter what traffic plan gets established.
“These roads can’t handle 10 more cars, much less 10,000,” he said.