The Real Deal Miami

Wexford’s UM Life Science & Tech Park wins county funding nod

Committee recommends Wexford get the money if another project falls through

August 28, 2015 10:30AM
By Francisco Alvarado

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Rendering of University of Miami’ Life Science and Technology Park

The University of Miami Life Science and Technology Park could get a $10 million injection from Miami-Dade taxpayers. Wexford Miami, the company that owns the park, is seeking county funds to pay for infrastructure improvements for a $112.1 million expansion that consists of a 14-story mixed-use hotel and innovation center.

At a meeting Thursday afternoon, the Miami-Dade County Commission’s Economic Prosperity Committee recommended by a 3-2 vote that the full board approve the funding request — but with a huge caveat. Wexford Miami would only get the money if previously approved funds from the same pot designated for three other projects, including Jeff Berkowitz’s SkyRise Miami tower, become available. That means one would have to fall through so Wexford Miami can move up.

“Given the park’s unique position, the project would not only be a game changer for Miami’s burgeoning innovation economy, but it would also provide pathways to the world of innovation to traditionally underrepresented populations,” Wexford Miami said in an application submitted to the county.

In the past decade, the county commission has allocated $75 million from a $2.9 billion general obligation bond program for economic development. Last year, Miami-Dade earmarked the remainder of those funds to SkyRise Miami, which got $9 million; the Miami Wilds theme park in South Miami-Dade, which got $13.5 million; and a commercial joint venture at Opa-Locka Airport that includes wealthy Miami former banker and investor Leonard Abess, which got $5 million.

SkyRise Miami faces the biggest threat of not being built. Billionaire auto dealer Norman Braman and Miami-Dade School Board member Raquel Regalado, who is running for county mayor in 2016, are suing Miami-Dade and the city of Miami to overturn last year’s vote approving the 1,000-foot observation tower.

Wexford Miami, an affiliate of Baltimore-based Wexford Science & Technology, built a 252,000-square-foot building at the intersection of Northwest 7th Avenue and Northwest 20th Street in 2011. The company leases the land from the University of Miami and the building tenants include both university-related research uses and private companies in life sciences, technology and other startup fields.

According to Wexford Miami’s application, the expansion would create 476 permanent jobs in addition to the 500 people currently working in the park. It would also create 600 construction jobs. According to a Fishkind & Associates study commissioned by Wexford Miami, the new hotel and innovation center would generate $137.1 million annually.

Two commissioners, Dennis Moss and Rebeca Sosa, voted against Wexford Miami because they said they had rejected other developers who had recently approached them about funding projects in their districts.

“I’ve told them no because all the money is already allocated,” Sosa said. “I have to be consistent.”

Bruno Barreiro, one of three commissioners who backed Wexford Miami, said the existing building is already producing tangible results. “This is an extremely worthy project for the community,” he said. “It has a lot of huge benefits.”