Miami Worldcenter breezes through initial vote

Commissioners tentatively approve zoning change, development agreement for massive project

Sep.September 12, 2014 09:45 AM

Miami Worldcenter cleared its second-to-last governmental hurdle on Thursday.

Despite objections from some project critics, Miami commissioners voted unanimously to grant preliminary approval to zoning changes and an agreement that would allow the developers of the 17-acre mixed-use project to begin construction. Miami Worldcenter still has to go through one more public hearing before it gets a final green light.

During Thursday’s hearing, commissioners heard from Miami Worldcenter representatives and opponents. The developers said they will build 1,083 condos, a 1,800-room hotel with a 600,000 square-foot convention center and a 765,000 square-foot shopping mall anchored by Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s from Northeast Sixth to 11th streets between Northeast Second and North Miami avenues.

“This will be a transformative project,” said Miami Worldcenter managing principal Nitin Motwani, noting the development would connect downtown Miami to the city’s nascent Arts and Entertainment District. “We think we can be the glue that ties all that together.”

Critics spoke out against some of the concessions the city has given the developers, such as closing off some streets and allowing media towers that would incorporate LED billboards.

Paul Savage, an attorney for the Omni Parkwest Redevelopment Association and nightclub Grand Central, argued that portions of Seventh, Eighth and Ninth streets that are closed for vehicular traffic would no longer be accessible to the public at night. Savage said the developer’s plans include entryways at street called “open-air paseos” that would be locked after sundown.

“I don’t think that is a wise piece of planning,” Savage said. “You can’t call it a paseo when it has doors that can be locked.”

Peter Ehrlich, co-founder of anti-billboard activist group Scenic Miami, said allowing the developers to put up LED billboards is prohibited by the city’s zoning code and Miami-Dade County law.

City commissioners still voted 4-0 in favor of the zoning changes and the development agreement. Commissioner Frank Carollo was absent.

“That entire area has been in severe decline and severe decay since before I arrived in Miami,” Commissioner Marc Sarnoff said. “Here is a developer that is coming with 18,000 jobs. That is the power of private industry.”

Opponents did not bring up Miami Worldcenter’s request to build up to 25 bars and nightclubs without needing city approvals for each one. But an attorney for the developers briefly noted that other major projects – including Brickell City Centre – have similar agreements.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly characterized Ehrlich’s concerns about broad language governing billboards in the Worldcenter development agreement as opposition to all types of signs at the project.

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