The company that owns and runs the largest mall in America wants to build an even bigger one in northwestern Miami-Dade County in Florida, a roughly 200-acre entertainment complex with submarines, a Legoland, sea lions and an artificial ski slope.
Backed by the owner of Minnesota’s Mall of America, American Dream Miami is proposed for land at the intersection of Florida’s Turnpike and Interstate 75 near Miami Lakes. It’s projected to cost as much as $4 billion to build and employ 25,000 people once opened, more than enough to give it Miami-Dade’s largest private-sector payroll.
It also would bring the largest mall in the United States to what’s now pastureland in Miami’s congested suburbs, using vacant real estate flanked by two of the region’s busiest highways.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez revealed the deal Thursday in an interview, and said the venture promises to provide a historic boost to the county’s economy. Mall of America owner Triple Five is not asking for government dollars or free land, Gimenez said, but wants to create the kind of large-scale theme park that can attract visitors from around the world and sustain thousands of jobs across Miami-Dade.
“It takes a lot of logistics to keep a thing like that going. All the food, and the mechanical equipment, air-conditioning — there’s going to be a huge spin-off,” he said.
A glossy development proposal released Thursday lays out the broad plan for American Dream Miami (which was called Americana World when the proposal was put together but has been renamed, according to a source close to the discussions).
It’s largely modeled after Triple Five’s other East Coast expansion, another massive American Dream complex planned for New Jersey. That 3-million-square-foot complex is described as having some of the same features as the Miami proposal, including an indoor domed amusement park with a roller coaster, a water park and a Ferris Wheel.
Development there fell behind schedule amid financing complications, but Triple Five, which took over in 2010, says the project should open next year, the (Bergen, N.J.) Record reported in January.
The Miami proposal shows a live sea-lion show on the eastern side of the complex, and an indoor ski slope (with 800 feet of artificial powder) on the western side. To the north sits a “lake” offering submarine rides. Miniature golf, the water park, a skating rink and indoor gardens would go in the southern part of the complex, which also includes both hotels and condominiums, according to the proposal.
Triple Five’s materials do not lay out the dimensions of the proposed Miami-Dade project, but county and company officials said American Dream Miami is expected to be larger than the Mall of America. Corporate materials say that complex in Bloomington, Minn., comprises 4.2 million square feet, with 520 stores and 50 restaurants. By comparison, the Aventura Mall, currently Florida’s largest, has 300 stores and about 2.7 million in floor space.
“It is our intent that this project – American Dream Miami – will exceed our other world famous projects in all respects,” Triple Five said in a statement.
The proposed American Dream Miami site sits within the county’s Urban Development Boundary, meaning Triple Five only needs a change in the land’s zoning to move forward. Jose “Pepe” Diaz, the county commissioner whose district includes the proposed site, sounded guardedly supportive of the plan.
“From what I’m hearing, it could be a great thing,” Diaz said. “But I have a lot of questions.” He cited concerns about traffic, and said he may request Triple Five contribute funds to expand mass transit to the area.
Though in the works for at least a year and involving three governmental bodies, the American Dream venture remained secret until Thursday. Much of the 200 acres will come from the Graham Companies in a deal with Triple Five, but about 80 acres of it belong to the state of Florida. Further complicating negotiations, Miami-Dade’s school system holds a lease on a large chunk of the state parcel in a land-bank arrangement for the possibility of future development there.
Triple Five has agreed to pay $7 million to compensate the school system for waiving its lease, and Miami-Dade would then purchase it from the state, county officials said. Triple Five would pay $11 million for the state land, officials said, with Miami-Dade County acting as a pass-through for the transaction. County commissioners and school board members are expected to consider the proposals later this month.
The state is declaring the land surplus, and Miami-Dade is using its ability to acquire spare property to secure the site for Triple Five under the county’s economic-development ordinance. Miami-Dade would also act as the conduit for Triple Five’s payment to the school board, officials said.
Triple Five is a family-owned company started in Canada by Iranian rug dealer Jacob Ghermezian in the late 1950s. Its first mall opened in West Edmonton, Canada, in the 1980s. Ghermezian and his four oldest sons (the five in the company’s name) pioneered the concept of building malls so massive they could serve as tourist attractions. Opened in 1992, the Mall of America reports about 42 million visitors a year.
With its Miami venture, Triple Five faces a market that has turned away large and extravagant ventures in recent years. Genting, the Malaysian casino giant, retracted its plan to build the world’s largest casino in downtown Miami in favor of a more modest proposal that remains stalled amid a debate over Florida’s gambling laws.
David Beckham last year failed to win support for his offer to build a soccer stadium at PortMiami or on the Miami waterfront. Developer Jeffrey Berkowitz won voter backing for his SkyRise Miami observation tower, but it’s now the subject of a lawsuit by potential Gimenez challenger Raquel Regalado over county funding.
The American Dream project arrives as Gimenez is gearing up for reelection in 2016 on a theme of expanding prosperity and economic development.
Another theme park, Miami Wilds, is already pursuing a deal in southern Miami-Dade and won approval for a $14 million county subsidy with Gimenez’s backing. Tourist attractions and retail outlets traditionally offer some of the lowest-paid jobs in the economy, so the bulk of American Dream Miami’s payroll won’t consist of well-paying jobs at the top of Miami-Dade’s economic wish list.
“There’s going to be a layer of high-paying jobs” in management, said Sean Snaith, an economist at the University of Central Florida, “but if you’re talking about people working at stores and running amusement park rides, you’re talking about the typical low-paying tourism jobs you find throughout Florida.”
Triple Five said it plans to employ 25,000 people during construction, and create that many permanent jobs once open. Gimenez said the planned private investment will instantly vault Triple Five into a top taxpayer, with an estimated $50 million yearly bill. He noted the ongoing economic recovery has left out some of the county’s poorest neighborhoods, and residents there will welcome the new employer.
“There are a lot of folks in this town” who see these as good jobs, Gimenez said. “Everybody is focused on high-paying jobs. Not everybody is qualified for them. Twenty-thousand jobs are twenty-thousand jobs.”