Miami-Dade County

Plans fall apart for massive movie studio near Miami Gardens

A rendering of the proposed Miami Ocean Studios, a massive production complex slated for county-owned land near Miami Gardens.
A rendering of the proposed Miami Ocean Studios, a massive production complex slated for county-owned land near Miami Gardens.

The ambitious plan to build one of the country’s largest movie studios on county-owned land near Miami Gardens appears to have fizzled.

Rodolfo Paiz, the Guatemalan supermarket heir behind Miami Ocean Studios, said Tuesday that his Chinese investors fell through on the deal and he is no longer in talks for Miami-Dade land or subsidy dollars for the proposed $265 million production complex.

The nearly 1-million-square-foot compound was described as the largest of its kind outside of California, with an aquatics set so large it could recreate the sinking of the Titanic. While Paiz said he isn’t giving up on his dream to build the studio, he no longer has a plan to finance it.

“There is no need to talk about anything unless and until something changes,” Paiz said of the discontinued talks with county officials. “We had reached the end of a successful negotiation for a lease. There was no need to sign it until we had our money. We didn’t sign it because our money disappeared.”

Miami Ocean Studios won the endorsement last year of Mayor Carlos Gimenez in its push for a $10 million subsidy from a $75 million economic-development fund created out of property-tax dollars. A tiny part of a $2.9 billion borrowing program authorized by voters in 2004, the pool of money became a flashpoint when the Gimenez administration moved to award grants from the dormant fund in the summer of 2014.

All $75 million has been tentatively awarded by county commissioners, much of it to proposed projects that include Miami Ocean, the SkyRise Miami observation tower and the Miami Wilds amusement parks next to Zoo Miami. But none of the deals has been fully authorized by the required final vote.

Our money disappeared.

Miami Ocean Studios developer Rodolfo Paiz

The money is available for public parking lots, utility connections and other “infrastructure” expenses. Grant recipients would be reimbursed with the tax dollars once the project is completed and has met certain hiring goals.

Like SkyRise, a 1,000-foot observation tower planned for the Miami waterfront, the movie studio’s financing plan hinged on foreign citizens pursuing green cards under the national EB-5 investor program. Overwhelmingly used by Chinese citizens, the program lets investors trade capital for instant green-card eligibility once an approved project is up and running.

Paiz said he was working with one broker to round up about $180 million from Chinese EB-5 investors but that the effort fell through. He said he told county officials several weeks ago that the financing was no longer feasible. The county’s film office issued a report this week recapping various entertainment news, and it noted “the Miami Ocean Studio Complex is no longer moving forward.”

The office of Commissioner Barbara Jordan, whose district includes the site and was the top advocate for Miami Ocean Studios, said she would sponsor a resolution to rescind the project’s $10 million grant.

Miami Ocean Studios planned to build at 20000 NW 47th Ave., a county-owned site in unincorporated Miami-Dade currently home to a cluster of nonprofits, including the His House refuge for children. Miami-Dade said any deal with the studios would require Paiz to provide replacement facilities for any nonprofits forced to move.

From the start, the plan sounded audacious. Miami Ocean Studios would span 900,000 square feet and have all the facilities needed to film a big-budget Hollywood production. There would be 40 acres of back lots available for exterior shots, with outside sets replicating South Beach’s Ocean Drive as well as 1920s Chicago, New York City, and Caribbean island villages. There would be 11 sound stages, a hotel, and digital editing facilities for post-production work.

Aquatic scenes were a primary target for the studio and its WaterWorx Miami center. Billed as one of the largest water-production facilities in the world, it would offer an artificial lake bordered by a green screen for recreating nautical scenes and four tanks for underwater filming.

“We are not building something to stand out in Florida,” Paiz told commissioners in January 2015 when he won initial approval for the $10 million grant. “Outside of Hollywood, we’re building one of a handful of the best facilities on planet Earth.”

Paiz said he still may ask Miami-Dade for land on the original site if he can secure new financing.

Miami Ocean Studios won its county backing at a time when county officials were pushing to further help the local production industry. With Florida’s $300 million pot of television and movie subsidies expiring, county commissioners made renewing the program a top lobbying priority for the current legislative session in Tallahassee.

Paiz cited the slim hope for new Florida subsidies during his interview Tuesday when he said he’s now pursuing a smaller studio project.

In its February report, Miami-Dade’s film office said production permits are down 10 percent over the last five months, accompanied by a 20 percent drop in related spending countywide. Even so, two major productions are wrapping their second seasons in town: HBO’s Ballers and Netflix’s Bloodline.

Gimenez spokesman Michael Hernández said the administration was “disappointed” by the Miami Ocean Studios news but will continue to “identify and support projects that will create permanent, well-paying jobs and lay the foundation for a more diverse local economy.”

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