American Dream passes final hurdle
On way: A mall, hotel, apartments, theme park, 14,500 jobs and major traffic
A gargantuan new shopping mall and theme park — the largest in North America — will be built in South Florida after it won final approval Thursday at the Miami-Dade County Commission.
Supporters said American Dream Miami would generate 14,500 jobs and give South Floridians a new entertainment option, a local alternative to Orlando’s Walt Disney World.
“We can’t win this tourism game just with beaches anymore,” Robert Holland, an attorney, told commissioners.
Detractors dubbed it “American Nightmare” and said it would harm wetlands and wildlife, clog the roadways and even block out views of the stars with light pollution.
The $4 billion mall and theme park proposal by developer Triple Five calls for 6.2 million square feet of retail, entertainment and backroom space, plus 2,000 hotel rooms. Immediately south of it, the Graham Companies employment center — also approved Thursday — is planned with 4 million square feet of office and retail space and 2,000 apartments.
After a nearly nine-hour
public hearing, the MiamiDade County Commission approved changes in the allowed land use, and developer agreements, to enable the super-mall and employment center projects to be built. Only one commissioner, Daniella Levine Cava, voted no.
American Dream Miami developer Eskander Ghermezian said he was inspired to create the destination partly based on his daughter’s complaints that her kids have nothing to do when it rains.
“This is unlike any project,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said. “This is the biggest project we’ve ever had in Miami-Dade County.”
The development team cast off the label “mall,” saying the new indoor retail model tips the balance more toward entertainment options.
“The naysaysers and the competitors want to call us a mall,” attorney Miguel Diaz de la Portilla said, “but the American Dream is greater than that.”
He said it would offer a place for “families being able to connect with each other as human beings.”
One senior citizen broke into tears as he described a wonderful trip he took with his wife to Disney World in Orlando, before she died last year. He urged commissioners to give locals a destination like that.
Triple Five’s Don Ghermezian described a “Las Vegas type atmosphere” at the company’s American Dream Meadowlands in New Jersey, with an aquarium, Ferris wheel, ski slope, stores, restaurants around a lake, hockey rink and more. Triple Five also owns the Mall of America in Minnesota and the West Edmonton Mall in Canada.
“We have the relationships, we have the knowhow, we have the expertise,” Ghermezian said.
Details about American Dream Miami — the tenants and design for the complex — will be ironed out later. Diaz de la Portilla said the team needs 32 permits “before we touch a speck of dirt.”
But talk of a planned indoor ski slope drew interest. Fort Lauderdale resident David Herbert said it would save him lots of money flying his four kids to Colorado.
“That’s the big thing here is being able to teach my kids to ski in South Florida,” he said.
Manuel Diner of Pembroke Pines said beyond the “huge economic impact” and the jobs, “it is an entertainment center that we desperately need.”
Mayor Oliver Gilbert III of Miami Gardens said he drove all the way to Sawgrass Mills in Sunrise to buy socks for Ramadan. He lifted his pants to show his striped, new socks, and urged the county to approve the mall’s rezoning “to create jobs” and “continue to grow.”
American Dream Miami — called “the mother of all projects” by one planning official — is forecast to attract 30 million visitors each year to the site just south of the Broward city of Miramar, in unincorporated Miami-Dade.
The American Dream Miami would rise on 174 acres between the Florida’s Turnpike Homestead extension and Interstate 75 south. Starting at 180th Street, the Graham Companies’ 340 acres run between the same two highways, to a southern boundary that lines up with 170th Street.
The roadways around American Dream Miami would carry an additional 35,000 cars each morning and evening — a total of 70,308 car “trips” a day, the developer’s traffic analysis found.
An additional 61,217 total car trips would come to and from the Graham Companies employment center.
At evening rush hour, 11,099 cars from both developments would be on the surrounding roads, experts predict.
Because the state dismantled its regulatory process for developments that affect an entire region, Broward County officials said they were at a disadvantage and threatened to sue if they didn’t get transportation improvements they’ve been seeking. But the county removed its objection to the project Thursday, after winning a last-minute concession.
The developers vowed to give Broward $650,000 for traffic signal improvements on Miramar Parkway and to include three bus bays for Broward County Transit at the theme park-mall, a May 14 letter to Broward from the developers’ attorney says.
The Broward County Commission is scheduled to vote on the compromise Tuesday, after the fact. The money would be used to improve green-light timing at six signalized intersections on Miramar Parkway, starting at Southwest 160th Avenue, to Monarch Lakes Boulevard.
“We recognize that here in South Florida, we all are neighbors,” Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam said, issuing a “thank you” but putting his traffic concerns on the record.
The developer’s offer is less than what Broward originally requested.
The county had asked the developers to contribute the full $2.4 million cost of the traffic signal enhancement.
Broward also had wanted the developer to contribute $1.6 million towards a north-south alternative to Interstate 75: an $18 million road connecting Miramar Parkway to Pembroke Road at 196th Avenue, and the $10 million extension of Pembroke Road to U.S. 27.
The strongest opposition throughout American Dream’s three-year trek toward approval came from a consortium of local malls, the South Florida Taxpayers Alliance.
Attorney Alex Heckler for the Alliance said Thursday the group is opposed to the American Dream receiving any public funding.
“We’re not opposed to free competition,” he said, “to open market competition.”
Environmentalists raised concerns, based on the proximity of the development to the Florida Everglades, and its impact on water supply, among other things.
Miami Lakes Mayor Manny Cid, whose town also is about two miles from the property, said traffic concerns were not properly heeded.
“I get calls on this every day,” he said, “every single morning.”
After a nearly nine-hour public hearing Thursday, Miami-Dade commissioners, including, from left, Xavier Suarez, Chairman Esteban Bovo and Rebecca Sosa, approved a $4 billion retail theme park south of Miramar. The mall and entertainment center, touted...