When real estate agent Sharon Dodge takes clients through the bayfront Plaza Venetia condo tower, they inevitably survey the big debris field next door that was once the Miami Herald building and ask, “What’s coming there?’’
“And I just shrug my shoulders and say, ‘Beats me. Nobody knows,’ ” she said.
It’s been three and a half years since Malaysian casino group Genting bought the Herald’s 14 acres for a then-eye-popping $236 million, and shortly after unfurled plans for a grandiose gambling resort on the site that chairman and CEO KT Lim promised would become “the face of Miami.”
Now, as a slow-motion demolition of the Herald’s landmark building nears an end, Genting’s intentions for its valuable waterfront property remain very much a mystery — maybe even to the company’s own leadership.
Its drive to legalize casino gambling in Florida fizzled in Tallahassee, and seems unlikely to be revived anytime soon: Incoming state Senate President Andy Gardiner, a Republican from Orlando, is an avowed gambling opponent and has close ties to Disney, which fought Genting’s legalization push tooth and nail.
Since then, Genting officials have spoken vaguely about scaled-back plans for a mixed-use development on the site, but have issued not so much as an artistic rendering, much less any kind of fleshed-out proposal.
And while Genting has turned its attention to establishing Resorts World-branded facilities in Las Vegas and Bimini, company officials have been silent on the subject of Miami, where they have parted ways with legal and public relations representatives.
Queried this week about the status of plans for the site, company spokeswoman Heather Krasnow issued a brief statement by email: “We continue to evaluate the market and plan to build a first-class project of suitable size and proportion for the land and marketplace.”
Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said the city had not heard from Genting “in several months.” Genting officials told city planners they would build on the site “as of right,” meaning they would seek no zoning changes or variances, but they have not submitted any plans, Regalado said.
“There are no plans at all about construction at the old Miami Herald,” Regalado said after checking with the city administration.
The lack of apparent progress and information have been a frustrating disappointment for local residents and business owners who publicy supported the casino giant’s original proposal, on the theory that it would bring prosperity to a long-depressed area.
That’s been compounded by the painstakingly slow takedown of the Herald building. Demolition work began shortly after the newspaper company moved to Doral in May 2013 but has since proceeded in fits and starts, leaving local residents, administrators at the nearby Arsht Center and business owners to contend with a giant, bombed-out eyesore — and at times massive emanations of dust — in the neighborhood.
Last year, city of Miami building officials briefly halted demolition work after calling the method a contractor was using unsafe. Krasnow said demolition work should be done by the end of January.
But the whole thing has been “truly strange,” said Dodge, echoing what many Miamians think
“And that’s the most notable thing about this,” said Dodge, a former Venetia association board member and founder and board member of the new Biscayne Neighborhoods Association, which represents residents who live along the boulevard.
“In the early days, they were looking to be good neighbors. They promised a park-like baywalk and shops and restaurants that we would have easy access to enjoy. We have not heard hide nor hair from them since.”
The radio silence from Genting has fueled speculation that the casino company will sell the property amid a condo boom that’s sent prices for developable waterfront land, increasingly a scarce commodity, sky-high. A 1.25-acre sliver of vacant land on the Miami River downtown recently sold for a jaw-dropping $125 million even though it’s not on the bay.
Six months ago, Miami mega-developer Jorge Perez, chairman and CEO of the Related Group, said a senior Genting official had contacted him to discuss co-developing the Herald site. At the time Christian Goode, the president of Genting’s local arm, Resorts World Miami, denied the site was for sale, but declined to discuss or even confirm any ongoing discussions with Perez.
There were even rumors that Genting was negotiating with retired soccer star David Beckham’s group, which has been seeking land to build a stadium for a new Miami team. The Beckham group said the conversation was never serious.
But Dodge said she wouldn’t be surprised if Genting cashed out.
“I think there is probably some truth to rumors that they’re clearing the land to shop it,” she said. “It would be very surprising if there was anything in current plans, and we would not know something. The complete absence of that argues this is up for grabs.”