After hours of discussion, but just as expected, Miami-Dade commissioners on Thursday gave American Dream Miami retail theme park final zoning approval, all but assuring that a $4 billion mega-mall will rise and sprawl across South Florida’s landscape.
Canadian developer Triple Five promises a bigger, better version of its current signature property, Minnesota’s Mall of America. We’re getting a six million square feet retail and entertainment complex with enough space for an indoor ski slope and a submarine lake — a sort of mini Disney World.
With a 9 to 1 vote, county commissioners approved changing Miami-Dade’s growth plan and zoning designations to allow the nation’s largest mall to be built in undeveloped land off Florida’s Turnpike on Northwest Miami-Dade.
This is a massive project. American Dream Miami predicts 30 million visitors a year and about 70,000 vehicle trips in and out of the property — a figure one commissioner said is close to the population of the city of Miami Gardens, where 110,000 people live and will now have a neighbor like no other.
All but one commissioner just couldn't say no to the lure of the economic rewards. Daniella Levine Cava cast the single no vote.
“This is the biggest project we’ve ever had in Miami-Dade County,” said Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who recently spoke to the Editorial Board to express his support for the project — and to emphasize that “no taxpayer dollars will be spent on the project.” That must hold true.
And that was the recurring concern at the daylong public meeting and hearing bravely captained by Commissioner Chairman Esteban Bovo. Many project supporters spoke up, but some who live near the mall called it “an environmental abomination.”
With the specter of the Marlins Park taxpayer ripoff still looming over the heads of the commissioners, it took hours to air out all the concerns about taxpayer money, impact on traffic, police and fire; environmental concerns, public transportation, bus lanes, job creation issues, competing mall issues. Lawsuits are already pending.
Not to mention the scuffle with Broward County, unhappy with such a giant mall right on its border.
Thursday’s vote ends more than two years of lobbying and negotiating by multiple parties, including Miami-Dade and Broward rival malls which targeted the project with an effort to preemptively ban it from seeking government subsidies.
The mall developers can seek state money, but county commissioners did vote against spending Miami-Dade tax dollars on the American Dream project. But in the four years it will take to build it, finances could change.
“I learn from past mistakes,” said Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, who voted for the unpopular 2009 public financing deal for Marlins Park. “All I want is to make sure no public funds are used.”
More jobs, more traffic, more economic impact, more tourists. For now, the mega mall is both tempting and frightening, a one positive, one negative deal. Let’s hope we don’t live to regret it. The developer has faced struggles with other similar projects across the country.
As expected, much of the discussion centered on the impact the mall traffic will have on our already clogged roads, but there are promises of widening roads, adding lanes and constructing ramps from Interstate 75 and Florida’s Turnpike. Miami-Dade Transportation Director Alice Bravo spent the day successfully volleying back concerns from the dais and the public speakers. Traffic won’t be so bad, really.
And let’s hope one day Commissioner Levine Cava does not get to say, “I told you so.”