Standing 100 stories above the city waterfront, the SkyRise Miami observation tower plans to offer some of the most stunning views in South Florida. And that’s before visitors step beyond the walls and take a ride on the glass domes creeping up the building’s exterior.
As the $430 million tourist attraction continues to pursue the investment dollars needed to go vertical, more details are emerging on the features developer Jeffrey Berkowitz expects to make it profitable. Plans filed with Miami reveal 20 glass-walled lounges on tracks on the tower’s exterior, allowing the observation orbs to creep up and down throughout the day.
“We believe the SkyWay attraction is poised to become a signature attraction,” Spencer Crowley, SkyRise lawyer, wrote in a Feb. 28 letter to Miami planners.
The SkyWay renderings, first published by the Next Miami blog, represent the latest attraction planned for SkyRise, which expects to generate a large chunk of its operating revenue from visitors paying admission. Previously announced plans include Sky Plunge, a bungee-style drop that will let people free fall while tethered to the building, and Sky Drop, a 12-seat ride that sends passengers plunging 65 stories before it catches on the building’s north side, and a “flying theater” that combines moveable seats with 360-degree screens to simulate soaring over the South Florida landscape.
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“It’s a vertical amusement park,” Berkowitz said.
The SkyWay orbs can each hold 15 people, and will move at a slow enough pace that they won’t need to stop to pick up passengers, according to the city filings. They describe SkyWay orbs as following the exterior tracks to the very top of the 1,000-foot SkyRise, “providing patrons a 360-degree view of Miami.”
The project became a flashpoint in the 2016 Miami-Dade mayoral race when challenger Raquel Regalado sued to block a $9 million county subsidy championed by Mayor Carlos Gimenez. Bayside Marketplace, the waterfront shopping center that controls the SkyRise site, settled the suit in April by paying Regalado’s legal fees and agreeing not to accept any government dollars for the project. SkyRise cited the litigation in a Nov. 15 letter to the city requesting an extension on its deadline to start paying rent by the fall of 2018, citing “an unavoidable delay.”
Miami agreed, allowing SkyRise to push its planned opening back a year to 2019. Berkowitz said he hasn’t secured the financing needed to build the tower but plans to close a deal in the coming months and start foundation work in the fall. “We’re pushing as quickly as humanly possible,” Berkowitz said. “Once the foundation is laid, we go vertical.”
The Coconut Grove-based developer had initially sought to capitalize on foreign investors seeking green cards to fund the majority of the project, with about $270 million pegged to the EB-5 visa program. That allows foreign investors to obtain an expedited green card in exchange for investing $500,000 in a job-producing project in the United States. This week, Berkowitz declined to share his latest financing plans for a project that Miami voters endorsed in a 2014 referendum, a vote needed to authorize construction on the city-owned site next to the marina at Bayside.
With no offices to rent or condos to sell, Berkowitz and his investors must rely on naming rights and the general public to make the building profitable. SkyRise plans restaurants, bars, lounges and event space, along with the rides. The project hopes for about 3 million visitors a year, and drawing about 15 percent of the tourists who visit Miami.
The project happens to be one of two observation towers being planned by prominent Miamians. David Wallack, founder of the Mango’s Tropical Cafe in South Beach, and his son, Josh, are pursuing a 570-foot SkyPlex in Orlando. David Wallack said in an interview that the project has backed off its own pursuit of EB-5 funding, citing a challenging market in Asia, the primary source of the visa-driven dollars. “It kind of fizzled out of China,” he said.
Like Berkowitz, Wallack said institutional investors are looking kindly at his tower effort, even as SkyPlex cuts its $600 million budget to about $450 million by eliminating a hotel in the structure. But Wallack said he sees a much easier time of making a go in the vertical-amusement sector in Orlando than Berkowitz can expect in Miami.
“I really wondered about what is going to fund that thing,” he said of SkyRise. “What is the big income generator for that structure? The big revenue for us is a roller coaster. And Orlando is the roller-coaster capital of the world.”
SkyRise expects to have Miami’s attractions market to itself, since no other destination in the area offers theme-park style rides. With the addition of high-end restaurants, a club and a premium spot for weddings and other pricey events, Berkowitz sees SkyRise becoming the top entertainment hub in Miami as the city’s downtown enjoys the momentum brought on by more condo towers and new museums.