Downtown Miami

Mediation ahead for Miami and Innovation Tower developer

A rendering of the Miami Innovation District, with the Innovation Tower to the far left
A rendering of the Miami Innovation District, with the Innovation Tower to the far left Courtesy

The developer planning a polarizing billboard and observation tower in Miami will look to a mediator to persuade city planners to process stalled permit applications for large digital signs that would flash over Interstate 395 and the downtown skyline.

In what may be a precursor to litigation, Miami Big Block filed a claim Friday under Florida’s Land Use and Environmental Dispute Resolution Act to save its Miami Innovation Tower. The three-sided, 633-foot structure is designed to twist upward from Miami’s Park West neighborhood, where the developer has plans for a 10-acre technology district. Big Block Miami, led by Miami Beach’s Michael Simkins, has been planning the project for years, guided by a city zoning code that contemplated a “media tower” on Northwest 10th Street and First Avenue.

But after Simkins inked a multi-million-dollar covenant with a city redevelopment agency and applied for permits, Miami commissioners repealed the law allowing the project and declined to clarify whether the Innovation tower would be grandfathered under the old code or made illegal. Then last month, Miami’s city attorney indicated that the city wouldn’t process Simkins’ permit applications for five digital signs unless the developer first received assurances from the county and state that “all potential issues” with the project were addressed.

Rather than seek out meetings with the county and state, the developer filed a claim Friday that state law requires the city and developer to enter into a public mediation with a special magistrate in about two months. Ultimately, the two sides can enter into an agreement, or if no compromise is reached the mediator can issue a recommendation to the Miami City Commission. The process was used recently to resolve a high-profile dispute over a planned commercial project on the Lincoln Road Mall, in the courtyard of the Miami Beach Community Church.

“Everything has been trending in the direction of resolution, and this is a statute that focuses everyone’s energy on resolution as opposed to conflict,” said John Shubin, attorney for Miami Big Block.

Miami City Attorney Victoria Méndez declined Monday to respond to the filing.

“We just got it Friday,” she wrote in a text message. “We need to review it further.”

Simkins’ project has been embraced by some in the tech community and in Overtown, where he has pledged to pay $5 million to a redevelopment agency by the time the tower opens and at least $1 million every year after. Critics, however, recoil at the idea of a Vegas-style tower in the heart of Miami. And Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez says the project isn’t allowed under county law.