Mi­ami mega­mall could be big­gest in the U.S. — but don’t call it a mall

The Hamilton Spectator - - BUSINESS - CURT AN­DER­SON

MI­AMI — Call it re­tail-tain­ment. Just don’t call Amer­i­can Dream Mi­ami a mall.

De­vel­op­ers are propos­ing a mas­sive 557,000 square-me­tre project on the edge of the Ever­glades in bustling South Florida that would dwarf any other shop­ping mecca in North Amer­ica, in­clud­ing Min­nesota’s Mall of Amer­ica.

Mi­ami-Dade County of­fi­cials could vote this fall to ap­prove it, de­spite some crit­i­cism that it will worsen the re­gion’s al­ready chok­ing traf­fic prob­lem and might pro­duce mostly low-pay­ing jobs. In gen­eral, malls across the United States have been in a slow de­cline as shop­pers flock to the In­ter­net.

Don Gher­mezian, pres­i­dent of de­vel­oper Triple Five World­wide Group of Ed­mon­ton — which also built the gi­ant West Ed­mon­ton Mall and Mall of Amer­ica — said this is not your fa­ther’s shop­ping mall. In ad­di­tion to thou­sands of square me­tres of re­tail, the project would in­clude an in­door ski slope, a wa­ter park, a sub­ma­rine ride at­trac­tion, a skat­ing rink, 2,000 ho­tel rooms, the­atres, a per­form­ing arts cen­tre and restau­rants.

The idea, Gher­mezian said at a re­cent pub­lic hear­ing, is to give mil­lions of res­i­dents and tourists in the Mi­ami area a fam­ily friendly al­ter­na­tive to Or­lando at­trac­tions such as Dis­ney World and Uni­ver­sal.

“We are not mall de­vel­op­ers. That’s not what we’re try­ing to build,” he said. “A lot of it is ‘re­tail-tain­ment.’ What we’re try­ing to cre­ate is an eco­nomic en­gine.”

Triple Five pre­dicts Amer­i­can Dream would draw 300,000 vis­i­tors a day and cre­ate about 14,500 per­ma­nent jobs. Politi­cians are lining up in sup­port.

“World class cities have world class fa­cil­i­ties,” said Den­nis Moss, a Mi­ami-Dade County com­mis­sioner. “All of the great things that we have go­ing in this com­mu­nity, a huge dis­ad­van­tage is we don’t have a lot of fam­ily en­ter­tain­ment and amuse­ment ac­tiv­i­ties. This is a game-changer.”

Many malls around the coun­try are in de­cline. Faith Hope Con­solo, chair of re­tail, mar­ket­ing and sales at Dou­glas El­li­man Real Es­tate in New York, said the re­tail world is “mov­ing to­ward en­ter­tain­ment and cre­at­ing ex­pe­ri­ences.” She said Triple Five’s plan in Mi­ami has an ex­cel­lent chance of suc­ceed­ing.

“What’s on the way out are the tired strip malls that haven’t been up­dated in 30 years. What’s in are beau­ti­ful shop­ping com­plexes, en­ter­tain­ment des­ti­na­tions. What’s go­ing to work in the fu­ture is the fo­cus on ex­pe­ri­ence, one-of-a-kind places where you want to go.”

Still, not ev­ery­one is con­vinced Amer­i­can Dream is a good idea. It would be built at the con­flu­ence of two ma­jor high­ways — In­ter­state 75 and Florida’s Turn­pike — that al­ready are fre­quently choked with traf­fic.

There are also plans by a sep­a­rate de­vel­oper, The Gra­ham Com­pa­nies, to build a 339acre project ad­ja­cent to Amer­i­can Dream that would in­clude of­fice space, re­tail and 2,000 apart­ments. Trans­la­tion: more cars.

Es­ti­mates say the projects would cre­ate 70,000 new car trips per day.

Doug Travis Wil­liams, who lives in South Mi­ami, said he of­ten sits in traf­fic two or three hours a day.

“We don’t have the in­fras­truc­ture in place to do some­thing like this. We can’t even get to where we need to get now,” he said.

There are also con­cerns that many of the jobs cre­ated will be rel­a­tively low-pay­ing. Triple Five es­ti­mated that 60 per cent of the jobs would pay less than $25,000 a year.

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