Miami-Dade County

In Miami-Dade, making the Mall of America look small

Rendering of the American Dream Miami megamall.
Rendering of the American Dream Miami megamall. American Dream Miami

America has never seen the kind of mega mall planned for Northwest Miami-Dade.

Recent regulatory documents filed by the developer of American Dream Miami, a 200-acre shopping and entertainment complex proposed near Miami Lakes, insist the project is so large and varied that traditional planning and traffic formulas fall short of offering a template for how the attraction would operate on what’s now vacant land where Interstate 75 meets Florida’s Turnpike.

 

Even Minnesota’s Mall of America, the country’s biggest shopping theme park and widely cited as the closest thing to an American Dream peer, offers only a fraction of what the developer of both projects wants to bring to Miami-Dade. The documents show developer Triple Five wants American Dream to cover 6.2 million square feet of floor space, about 40 percent larger than the Mall of America’s 4.4-million-square-foot presence in Bloomington, Minnesota.

A big difference comes from the actual shopping areas, with American Dream planning to have about 1 million more square feet of retail than the Mall of America has. But the planning documents also show American Dream betting much more heavily on the theme-park side of the business, with about a quarter of the layout taken up by rides, an indoor ski slope, mini submarines and other entertainment options.

At the Mall of America, less than 15 percent of the space falls under the entertainment category. American Dream also is slated to have a 2,000-room hotel, which would be the largest in Miami-Dade.

Triple Five representatives did not respond to interview requests regarding what would be the largest development in Miami-Dade’s history. The approval process is accelerating, with the first public hearing on the proposal tentatively set for March when the area’s zoning board, known as a Community Council, is expected to meet on the application. Final votes before the county commission could come this summer, said Mark Woerner, chief of Miami-Dade’s planning division.

The latest batch of application documents from Triple Five that’s been winding through South Florida’s land-use regulatory pipeline includes a companion plan to American Dream Miami. The Canada-based developer’s local partner in assembling its 200-acre site, the Graham Cos., is planning its own massive development on 240 acres just south of the mall property. The Miami Lakes-based developer wants to eventually build another 1 million square feet of retail, a 3 million-square-foot business park and about 2,500 houses and apartments.

“That’s a very, very big application,” said Jeffrey Bercow, a land-use lawyer and lobbyist in Miami-Dade. His clients include Turnberry, the owner of Aventura Mall, an American Dream rival and currently the county’s largest mall with about 2.7 million square feet of space. “If I was a neighbor,” Bercow said of Triple Five’s plans, “I would be concerned.”

Miami-Dade’s growth regulators said the traffic demands from the Graham project needed to be paired with American Dream’s own application in order to properly gauge how much the developments would strain nearby highways and roads. Graham executives also could not be reached for comment. The applications show American Dream generating about 71,000 vehicle trips a day once it is built out in 2020, and the Graham project generating another 13,000 by then. (The Graham project has a much longer construction time line, and expects to attract 67,000 vehicles a day by 2040.)

As a much larger mall, American Dream is expected to be a bigger traffic draw than its counterpart in Minnesota. But Triple Five’s consultants said the traffic demand will be even greater, since Mall of America is served by a light-rail system but there are no plans for mass transit beyond buses and shuttles to American Dream Miami.

To calculate the American Dream traffic figure, Triple Five hired consultants to count vehicles at the Mall of America last summer. It then broke down the numbers to see how many trips the mall generates for every square foot of leased retail space to determine how many vehicles American Dream Miami should expect to attract.

“ADM is a very unique project without many similar sources to draw data from,” Triple Five wrote in correspondence with regulators. “After months of researching, the Applicant stands by the statement that [Mall of America] is the best available source for ADM.”

Planning officials pushed back on that assumption, insisting Triple Five wanted to bring the Miami area a mega-mall with a much larger entertainment component than it opened in Minnesota in 1992. One summary of concerns from state transportation officials cited a “disproportionate share of square footage allocated to entertainment uses” at American Dream Miami compared to Mall of America, and asked for a vehicle forecast tied solely to the Miami project’s offerings beyond shopping.

“If available, trip generation from amusement parks in Central Florida should be reviewed to determine whether” the vehicle forecasts for American Dream Miami “sufficiently capture the entertainment attraction,” the officials wrote.

Triple Five is in the process of assembling final traffic estimates with Miami-Dade and other government entities involved in the approval process. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez helped negotiate the land deal that secured Triple Five’s site, and his administration will eventually recommend to county commissioners whether to approve the company’s requested change in Miami-Dade’s comprehensive development plan. A key question is whether the area can handle the surge of traffic that would follow America’s largest mall.

“What we’re going to be look at is: What’s your impact on the current transportation network, and are there improvements that are going to be needed?” said Woerner, the county’s planning chief . “We never dreamed of 6.2 million square feet of anything going on out there.”

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