Miami-Dade County

New laws could complicate plans for Miami billboard tower

The Miami Innovation District, as proposed, would include nine towers in a four block section of Park West. Half of the space would be for offices, the developer said.
The Miami Innovation District, as proposed, would include nine towers in a four block section of Park West. Half of the space would be for offices, the developer said. Rendering provided by Miami Innovation District

For years, a law has been on the books in the city of Miami allowing for a “media tower” to broadcast ads and images over Interstate 395 and downtown from the city’s Park West neighborhood.

But now that someone actually wants to build one, elected officials may change the rules.

With the developer of the 633-foot Miami Innovation Tower actively seeking a sign permit from the city, Miami Commissioners on Thursday will consider three pieces of legislation that could delay, complicate and perhaps even derail the project.

One proposal before commissioners would repeal the section of the city’s Miami 21 zoning code allowing for the Park West media tower. That proposal is offered in tandem with a second piece of legislation that administrators say would give them more power over media towers in Park West and Overtown by moving regulatory language into the city’s code of ordinances. (Critics believe it would actually loosen restrictions.)

A third piece of legislation by Miami’s mayor would place a four-month moratorium on media tower permits.

All three proposals would have to be approved twice. Last week, developer Michael Simkins said he doesn’t believe the legislation would apply to his project, which would serve as a profit-generating linchpin for a proposed 10-acre, mixed-use district. Nevertheless, his team still has concerns.

“This is an attempt, if it is considered applicable to this proposal, to basically sweep the rug out from under us, to change the law midstream,” Simkins’ attorney, Tony Recio, said Tuesday night during a non-binding public hearing on some of the proposed legislation. “Any person can see the unjustness in that.”

Miami administrators say the legislation isn’t specific to any project, and Miami City Attorney Victoria Méndez has declined to clarify whether the legislation would apply to Simkins’ tower. But the proposals come two months after Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado said he would introduce legislation to require greater scrutiny over the Miami Innovation Tower.

Right now, Simkins appears to have all the public approvals he needs to build his project, save an expected June 29 vote on a covenant with an Overtown redevelopment agency that includes millions in payments by the developer. He may otherwise only need administrative approvals for permits. But by changing the city’s laws, commissioners could require additional scrutiny and greater controls by public boards and the city’s Planning and Zoning Department.

Or, as the city’s Planning Zoning and Appeals Board recommended Tuesday night, commissioners could simply vote to repeal the laws that allow a media tower in Park West and stop there, potentially stripping Simkins of the ability to build his project. Were that to happen, it could leave him scrambling to find a new plan to redevelop more than $100 million in real estate over a 10-acre stretch.

And here’s yet another possibility, albeit an unlikely one: Miami-Dade County could try to stop the project.

The county’s sign laws, which apply to municipalities, don’t allow for media towers. The city says it has opted out of the county’s sign code, but Miami-Dade’s Mayor Carlos Gimenez — who has the power to enforce the issue — told The Miami Herald recently that the tower is illegal.

Gimenez doesn’t plan to pursue the issue and force the city to comply with county laws, according to spokesman Michael Hernandez. But “that does not necessarily rule out future action,” he said.

Meanwhile, Miami-Dade Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz has proposed new county legislation to be heard on June 30 that defines digital billboards.