Job pledge on mega-mall project falls far short of pitch

An aerial view of the proposed American Dream Miami entertainment and retail complex, a massive attraction planned for Northwest Miami-Dade. Backed by the company behind the Mall of the America in Minnesota, it’s described as the largest mall in the United States
An aerial view of the proposed American Dream Miami entertainment and retail complex, a massive attraction planned for Northwest Miami-Dade. Backed by the company behind the Mall of the America in Minnesota, it’s described as the largest mall in the United States Miami

The developer that wants to bring the nation’s largest mall to northwest Miami-Dade County is touting a record-breaking hiring goal: 25,000 permanent jobs, enough to make it the county’s largest private employer.

But in a fast-track land deal crafted with the county, developer Triple Five would only be required to hire a fraction of that amount: 7,500 jobs within 15 years. That would put American Dream Miami, a 200-acre theme park and shopping center modeled after Minnesota’s Mall of America, somewhere between American Airlines and Publix in terms of payroll size in the county.

The gap between American Dream Miami’s advertised job target and its proposed legal requirements are laid out in a real-estate agreement that Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez wants county commissioners to approve Tuesday. In closed-door briefings with commissioners this week, Triple Five representatives touted the 25,000 permanent jobs American Dream Miami would bring to the area, a figure outlined in large type in its development brochure.

“That’s a stark difference from the 25,000 jobs they were talking about,” Esteban “Steve” Bovo, the county commissioner representing the residential areas next to the proposed attraction where the Florida Turnpike meets Interstate 75.

In a statement Thursday, a Gimenez spokesman said administration forecasts show the project could create as few as 10,000 permanent jobs. The high end of the county forecast is 20,000 jobs, said Michael Hernández, Gimenez’s communications director.

But a March 17 memo from Gimenez to commissioners made public this week stated: “It is anticipated that once all phases of this project are completed there will be 25,000 permanent new jobs at the entire complex.”

“This is a floor,” Gimenez told the Herald on Thursday about the 7,500-jobs number. “There is no guarantee that he's going to be allowed to build what he is proposing because there is still the permitting process. These restrictions run with the land and not with the project.... If they are allowed to build what they want to build they will reach 25,000 jobs.”

Since Triple Five is paying for the land, and not requesting any county funds or incentives, Miami-Dade is not even required to demand any hiring goals, the mayor added.

The 10,000-job possibility, 40 percent of Triple Five’s projection, was not laid out in the administration’s 107-page briefing package made public ahead of Tuesday’s meeting. The vote to approve a $12 million land sale to Triple Five was not steered through the commission committee system either, and is set to take place 12 days after Gimenez revealed the project’s existence in an interview with The Miami Herald.

On Tuesday, commissioners would only approve the land transaction giving Triple Five a state parcel it needs for its project. Zoning decisions and other matters would come back to commissioners and other government officials in an approval process expected to stretch well into 2015 and beyond.

The proposed hiring requirements were included in the first official batch of documents tied to what Gimenez describes as the largest economic-development project in Miami-Dade’s history, a 200-acre retail and entertainment complex with condos, hotels and shops as well as an indoor ski slope, sea-lion exhibit, submarine rides and an artificial beach near Miami Lakes and Hialeah.

“This is about jobs,” Gimenez said during a March 6 meeting with the Miami Herald Editorial Board. “What attracted me initially to this, and what continues to attract me, is the number of jobs that will be created in our area.”

Triple Five declined to elaborate on its hiring plans Thursday, and has yet to make a company executive available for interviews in advance of Tuesday’s vote. The proposal it has provided elected leaders isn’t up to date: It lists an earlier name for the complex, Americana World, and borrowed interior renderings for the ski slope, water park and other interior features from a similar project in New Jersey being developed in East Rutherford.

“We have no comment,” Debbie Patrie, senior vice president of marketing for New Jersey’s American Dream, wrote in an email Thursday.

Commissioner Bovo said he would judge Triple Five on actual hiring results at its existing projects. “What numbers did they create in other locations? We’ll go from there.”

The Mall of America’s webpage lists 11,000 employees in the winter and another 2,000 seasonal hires for the summer in the sprawling, 4-million-square-foot attraction. Triple Five says that when the Minneapolis mall’s second phase is finished, the facility should employ 20,000 people. An even larger Triple Five mall in Edmonton, Canada, with about 5 million square feet of shopping and entertainment, employs 25,000 people, according to Triple Five’s website.

Triple Five, which has headquarters in Canada and New Jersey, said it will spend $4 billion building the Miami-Dade complex, and create 25,000 temporary jobs during construction. It also promises to become a significant tourist attraction. The company says Mall of America attracts about 40 million visitors a year.

The developer is counting on an assemblage of northwest Miami-Dade land made up mostly of property owned by the Graham Companies. But 82 of the 200 acres are state-owned, and Miami-Dade is using its power as a local government to acquire the property once Florida declares it surplus and to then transfer the acreage to Triple Five.

Triple Five plans to pay $12.3 million for the 82-acre site, with the money going to Florida through Miami-Dade. Triple Five also would pay $7.2 million to Miami-Dade’s school system, which holds a lease on about half of the state land for future school construction that admnistrators now say they don’t expect to ever build.

Gimenez is asking county commissioners to waive Miami-Dade rules on selling county land, which requires the proposed transaction to be vetted through the planning process. The mayor invoked Miami-Dade’s economic-development law in asking commissioners to circumvent the land-sale process, saying American Dream Miami presents a significant opportunity to boost the county’s economy.

As part of that waiver, Gimenez proposed a set of restrictions on the 82-acre parcel that would require Triple Five to pay as much as $5 million in penalties if it doesn’t meet hiring requirements laid out in the document. Those requirements say the Triple Five entity listed as the developer, International Atlantic LLC, has 10 years after taking possession of the property to create at least 5,000 permanent jobs at the project. Within 15 years, it must create an additional 2,500 — for a total of 7,500 positions.

Once Triple Five creates the 7,500 jobs, the restrictions essentially expire, according to the agreement. The hiring requirement of 7,500 jobs within 15 years would make American Dream Miami the county’s fourth-largest private employer right now — landing between American Airlines (9,000 employees) and Publix (4,604), according to a ranking included in Miami-Dade’s latest report to bond holders. Hernández said the 7,500 requirement represents 75 percent of the county’s lowest estimate for job creation.

The American Dream proposal comes as Miami-Dade’s extended economic recovery has still left it with an unemployment rate of 6.9 percent, the second highest among Florida’s metropolitan areas. But the project has also raised the long-standing debate over how much Miami-Dade should rely on its tourism industry, and the thriving retail sector that comes with it.

A May 2014 report from the county’s Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources lists Retail Salesperson as the county’s largest employment category, with 47,760 people working that job.

The average hourly wage: $9.76. That’s just above the pay for two other occupations on the Top Five list that also are prevalent in malls: cashiers ($9.16 an hour) and workers in the food industry ($8.93 an hour), a category that includes fast-food restaurants. The two highest paid occupations in the Top Five list were registered nurses ($29.26 an hour) and customer-service representative ($13.59 an hour).

Dennis Moss, a county commissioner representing southern Miami-Dade, said it’s a mistake to minimize American Dream Miami’s hiring plans.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for the county,” Moss said. “Getting one of these jobs is a good start.... You have folks out here who have limited work skills. They need to have full-time employment.”

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