Pro­posed Mi­ami mega­mall would be big­gest in coun­try

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY CURT AN­DER­SON

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

De­vel­op­ers are propos­ing a mas­sive 6 mil­lion-square-foot 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 U.S. have been in a slow de­cline as shop­pers flock to the in­ter­net.

Don Gher­mezian, pres­i­dent of devel­oper Triple Five World­wide Group of Ed­mon­ton, Canada — which also built Mall of Amer­ica — said this is not your fa­ther’s shop­ping mall. In ad­di­tion to mil­lions of square feet of re­tail, the project would in­clude an in­door ski slope, a water park, a sub­ma­rine ride at­trac­tion, a skat­ing rink, 2,000 ho­tel rooms, the­aters, a per­form­ing arts cen­ter and places to eat and drink.

The idea, Mr. 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.”

Mi­ami has trendy South Beach and miles of sunny beaches, the vi­brant Wyn­wood arts dis­trict and the Ever­glades for na­ture lovers but has never had a ma­jor at­trac­tion like other Florida cities. There’s the Seaquar­ium with its 50-year-old orca, Lolita, and places such as Jun­gle Is­land, the zoo and Mon­key Jun­gle. Yet no large theme parks have ever lo­cated here.

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 Mi­amiDade 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.”

Lo­cal res­i­dent Stu­art Bloomberg said at the re­cent hear­ing that Mi­ami needs some­thing just like that.

“I am tired of hear­ing ev­ery­body say there’s noth­ing south of I-4,” Mr. Bloomberg said of the in­ter­state the runs through Or­lando. “It’s about time Mi­ami-Dade par­tic­i­pated. Let’s not blow it this time.”

South Florida’s ex­ist­ing malls, in­clud­ing the re­gion’s top tourist at­trac­tion Saw­grass Mills, are watch­ing ner­vously. They say they are not op­posed to Amer­i­can Dream but would not fa­vor any pub­lic tax dol­lars go­ing to sub­si­dize it. So far, no pub­lic money is fi­nanc­ing the project.

“We just want them to meet the rules like ev­ery­body else has to meet,” said Alex Heck­ler, at­tor­ney for a group of ex­ist­ing malls.

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,” Ms. Con­solo said. “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.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS

De­vel­op­ers are propos­ing Amer­i­can Dream Mi­ami, a mas­sive 200-acre project on the edge of the Ever­glades in South Florida. Of­fi­cials could vote this fall to ap­prove it.

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