Amer­i­can Dream passes fi­nal hur­dle

On way: A mall, ho­tel, apart­ments, theme park, 14,500 jobs and ma­jor traf­fic

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Brit­tany Wall­man Staff writer

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.”

TRIPLE FIVE GROUP/COUR­TESY

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...

C.M. GUER­RERO/MIAMI HER­ALD

DANIEL A. VARELA/MIAMI HER­ALD

C.M. GUER­RERO/MIAMI HER­ALD

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