Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: South Florida’s wildest plans never materialize

A conceptual rendering of the Miami skyline lit up by Eye on the Bay Ferris wheel and SkyRise Miami looking west from Watson Island.
A conceptual rendering of the Miami skyline lit up by Eye on the Bay Ferris wheel and SkyRise Miami looking west from Watson Island. MCLAREN ENGINEERING GROUP

Oh, how grandiose dreams do wither in the South Florida sun. Like Die Mauer Erlebnispark. What fun we could have had.

Remember Die Mauer Erlebnispark, the theme park planned for somewhere along I-95 in Broward County? With the sign over the entrance warning, in three languages, “You are leaving the American sector.”

Probably not, given that potential investors were apparently cool to the notion of a $30 million, 20-acre theme park that promised, “A hot show about the Cold War.” It was 1995, just six years after the Berlin Wall was dismantled. And we were that close to getting an amusement park based on life in the old Soviet bloc, with — I feel compelled here to assure readers that this description was taken from the actual investment brochure — a guard tower, a 12-foot wall topped with concertina wire around a hotel, restaurant and a cold war museum shaped, of course, like the old hammer and sickle symbol.

Visitors entering the park would be harassed by pretend Red Army guards with replica machine guns and rough demands — “Hand over your IDs.” Soldiers would then search the cars in an amusing style reminiscent of a totalitarian socialist state.

Fun for the whole family.

But, alas, like so many extravagant amusements planned for hereabouts, all of which were suppose to lure hordes of tourists our way, Die Mauer Erlebnispark never happened. (Though the concept has done just fine in Lithuania.)

It was just another of South Florida’s wildly ambitious schemes to entice tourists over the years that failed to materialize. Makes it tough to rouse much excitement, one way or another, for or against, over these overwrought projects currently percolating around South Florida — like the 650-foot-tall Ferris wheel proposed for the Miami bayfront, not far from the 1,000-foot SkyRise tower, with a nightclub, amphitheater, restaurant, flight simulator, bungee jump and, of course, that 50-story “high-speed” drop.

We’ve got waterparks planned for Fort Lauderdale and Miami Gardens. And down by Zoo Miami, there’s Miami Wilds, a $930 million endeavor, which, if it’s ever built, would include a 70-acre theme ride park, another water park, a 400-room hotel, nearly a half-million square feet of retail development and a 35,000-square-foot theater. The planned $14.3 million Dinosaur Park next door has already gone extinct.

Miami Wilds, if it ever happens, would be a big deal. Though not nearly as big as Blockbuster Park, better known as Wayne’s World. Back in 1994, Wayne Huizenga was going to give us (with a little help from the taxpayers), a 2,500-acre extravaganza on the Broward-Miami-Dade county line at the edge of the Everglades, with a 45,000-seat domed baseball park; a 20,000-seat hockey arena; a movie-music-TV-radio studio complex; an outdoor marine stadium; a virtual reality amusement center; facilities for golf, tennis, roller-skating and youth sports; movie and dinner theaters; shops; restaurants and offices. And, oh yeah, a theme park. Got to have a theme park. His company promised, ``It will be like nothing you've seen in America. The largest private-sector project ever committed. The potential benefits are awesome.”

Wayne managed to get approvals from both counties along with state permission to set up a self-governing district, much like Disney World. But then his Blockbuster entertainment company was scarfed up by Viacom, which promptly killed the idea.

So Blockbuster Park went the way of so many of our dreamy projects. The Wayne’s World that-never-happened was not far from the site of Paris USA that was supposed to open in 1959 with a 150-acre French-themed amusement park including a 1,000-foot-tall replica of the Eiffel Tower right smack in the middle. The original Eiffel Tower, by the way, is only 986 feet tall. Who needs Paris?

If tourists are in the mood for a fiasco, they would have loved Interama, conceived back in 1951 as a kind of permanent World’s Fair, an international theme park — think Epcot before its time — on 1,600 acres of bayfront land in North Miami. It was to have featured a 12,000-seat floating amphitheater and the 1,000-foot Tower of Freedom (not to be confused with the Freedom Tower) rising out of the bay, accessible by an underwater people mover. Or by space-age capsules dangling from cables.

Wow! Interama was going to be the biggest, or maybe just the craziest, thing ever. Construction actually started in 1964, mostly dredging and filling the watery site, until 1968, when we just flat gave up. The land was divvied up as a campus for Florida International University and Oleta River State Park with another chunk allowed to become a toxic waste dump.

North Miami eventually reclaimed the Interama dump and cut a deal back in 2010 with developers to build Solar Mountain, a domed indoor snow ski resort with a 550-foot downhill run, a 163-meter ski jump and ice-skating rinks. “This is going to be a state-of-the-art facility like South Florida has never seen before.”

We’re still waiting on North Miami’s ski resort. But we’re also waiting on Pelion Sunrise, which announced plans three years ago to build an indoor ski joint in Sunrise, out by Sawgrass Mills, which would feature skiing, snowboarding, sledding, snowmobiling, ice skating — all that cold stuff. Pelion, I noticed, hasn’t updated its Facebook page, “Ski Florida,” since October 2013.

Poor Watson Island, site of the mythical 160-story Miapolis condo mega tower, was once to have been home to Diplomat World, circa 1979, a theme park for which the theme eludes me. I don’t know. Try to imagine the youngsters clamoring to visit a replica of the Swedish embassy.

Me, I miss the soccer themed park that Spain’s Real Madrid promised Miami back in 2005 (not to mention David Beckham’s various waterfront soccer stadiums). But not as much as I miss Resorts World Miami, a very weird $3.1 billion otherworldly thing that the gambling conglomerate Genting said it was building at the old Miami Herald site on Biscayne Bay back in 2011. It was to have been a kind of adult amusement complex with two zany lava-lamp-looking 1,000-foot-tall (apparently the magic height for unrealized South Florida mega-projects) condo towers, four luxury hotels, 50 restaurants and bars, all kinds of convention space and a yacht marina. With plenty of room, just in case Miami decides it needs a casino.

At the moment, the super huge luxury Resorts World Miami remains no more than the forlorn skeletal remains of the old Herald building. But if you squint your eyes and rev up your imagination Miami style, (illegal drugs may help), you can almost see an indoor ski resort on the site. Or a Ferris wheel. Or a replica of the Eiffel Tower. Or an East Berlin guard tower rising out of a nest of concertina wire. All of these reaching up to the requisite thousand feet.

All you need to see these projects rising over the South Florida skyline is a little self-delusion. Or else a lot of very rich, not very discerning, very, very drunk investors.

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