Miami-Dade County

A year after approving the American Dream mega-mall, county awaiting the ‘next step’

Megan Sorbo speaks against the controversial American Dream Mall calling the development, an abomination

American Dream Miami, a retail theme park that would be the largest mall in America, wins approval from the Miami-Dade County Commission. Developer Triple Five says the $4 billion project will include an indoor ski slope and a submarine lake.
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American Dream Miami, a retail theme park that would be the largest mall in America, wins approval from the Miami-Dade County Commission. Developer Triple Five says the $4 billion project will include an indoor ski slope and a submarine lake.

A year after approving development of the nation’s largest mall in Northwest Miami-Dade, the county is still awaiting the site plans that would turn the American Dream Miami project into a reality.

The Florida version of Minnesota’s Mall of America won a nearly unanimous zoning vote on May 17, 2018, by the County Commission. The momentum dropped off from there, with Miami-Dade agencies that must consider permits and county road upgrades for the projects saying developer Triple Five hasn’t submitted the paperwork needed to get the green light for construction.

“There’s no update on our end,” said Tere Florin, a spokeswoman for the county’s office of Regulatory and Economic Resources, which oversees permitting and zoning. “They haven’t submitted a site plan, which remains the next step.”

Triple Five did recently secure a win after extensive talks with county and state administrators on a new interchange off the Florida Turnpike that’s required for the $4 billion American Dream project to proceed. Florida has begun seeking private firms to build the Turnpike project under a state contract. And Miami-Dade’s sewer managers are proceeding with a $15 million pipe extension needed to build American Dream and other projects in the area outside of Miami Lakes and Hialeah, where the turnpike meets I-75.

Development experts said it’s not unusual for a large project to take more than a year to shift from government approval to preparing for construction, so a longer delay is expected for a mall large enough to plan for submarine rides, indoor roller coasters and a domed artificial ski slope.

“It is full speed ahead,” said Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a lobbyist and lawyer at Saul Ewing Arnstein and Lehr who is representing Triple Five in talks with Miami-Dade. The former county commissioner said there have been “daily” talks over the Turnpike project, with bids due later this month. “You’ll be able to practice your skiing indoors in Miami soon.”

Delays have been a problem at American Dream’s sister project in New Jersey, the American Dream Meadowlands. Triple Five had once planned to open in time for the 2014 Super Bowl in MetLife stadium next door. Delays in securing financing for what’s described as a $5 billion development project stalled the construction start, as Triple Five lined up government subsidies and publicly backed loans.

An April 30 update to Wall Street lenders said construction is about 85 percent finished, with American Dream Meadowlands scheduled to open in September. That scratches an earlier plan for a spring opening.

Triple Five’s most recent prediction for a Miami-Dade opening is 2023.

A coalition of South Florida malls trying to block American Dream Miami secured a resolution last year from Miami-Dade commissioners saying the county wouldn’t subsidize the project. Triple Five representatives objected, but noted they weren’t asking for public dollars.

Triple Five partner Eskandar Ghermezian had asked Mayor Carlos Gimenez for government subsidies during negotiations, but Gimenez said he turned down the requests. Ghermezian has largely declined interviews during the five years that Triple Five has been pursuing its Miami-Dade project.

Neisen Kasdin, a former Miami Beach mayor who represents developers before local governments, said approval for a project as large as American Dream Miami typically triggers the start of the real heavy lifting: securing lenders and investors to fund construction.

“Sometimes a project will get their approvals, and then it may be some period of time when they get all the equity and debt placed,” said Kasdin, a land-use lawyer at Akerman. For a project as large and complicated as American Dream, even just coming up with a plan for how to build the complex can mean months of work. “Just to do the construction plans and drawings — that can take a year,” he said.

Anthony De Yurre, a land-use lawyer at Bilzin Sumberg, said a more traditional project may take six months to pursue construction permits after winning government approval. For American Dream Miami, the process is bound to take far longer. “You’re basically building a small city,” he said.

Neither Kasdin nor De Yurre is involved with American Dream Miami.

The development agreement Miami-Dade commissioners approved a year ago requires American Dream to delay opening until a string of transportation improvements, including new interchanges and road widenings, are finished. Some are projects that Florida is funding through previously scheduled improvements in the area. Others Triple Five has to pay to have completed.

Miami-Dade’s Transportation and Public Works Department would oversee some of those approvals, along with upgrades to county bus service that are required under the agreement. Spokeswoman Karla Damian said the agency hasn’t begun talks on those efforts. “There haven’t been any developments,” she said.

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