Worldcenter developers get critical approvals

Nitin Motwani
Nitin Motwani

Miami commissioners paved the way for Miami Worldcenter’s developers to start construction with the approval of zoning changes and a development agreement for the $1.5 billion mixed-use project.

After a four-hour public hearing, commissioners voted 4-0 in favor of the zoning changes and development agreement with Miami Worldcenter Associates, which claims the massive project will create 35,000 direct and indirect jobs. Commissioner Wifredo Gort was absent.

Miami Worldcenter Associates managing director Nitin Motwani told commissioners his group is anxious to submit site plans and begin construction.

“We’re excited,” Motwani said. “This is just another step forward.”

Motwani and his partners, who conceived Miami Worldcenter 10 years ago, have a contract to sell a portion of the nearly 30-acre site to MDM Development, which is planning a 1,800-room Marriott-branded hotel and expo center on the former site of the Miami Arena. Miami Worldcenter Associates also has a pending deal with mall operators Taubman Centers and the Forbes Co., which want to build a 765,000-square-foot shopping center anchored by Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s. Residential towers totaling 1,083 units are also planned for the site.

The hearing included a parade of supporters and a handful of critics, who urged commissioners to delay voting to allow the public to digest changes to the development agreement that softened some of the earlier concessions granted by city officials.

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For instance, the developer will now be required to pay a fee, which would be determined when a site plan is submitted, for the air rights above some streets that were closed to traffic to accommodate a pedestrian mall. Additionally, amended language clarifies that any signage on the site must comply with Miami’s zoning code. Opponents claimed the city was giving away valuable air rights for nothing in return and granting the developer permission to put up any type of signs, including LED billboards that are prohibited under the zoning code.

“Please defer the item to allow time for citizens and the press to analyze the amendments,” said attorney Paul Savage, an attorney representing the Omni Parkwest Redevelopment Association and nightclub Grand Central, which is located on land owned by the developer. Both entities petitioned Miami-Dade Circuit Court to overturn the city’s decision to close off portions of Northeast Seventh, Eighth and Ninth streets.

Christopher MacLeod, owner of the Corner Bar at 1035 North Miami Avenue, claimed city commissioners were rushing to make a decision.

“This project will have lasting ramifications on the neighborhood,” MacLeod said. “With so many issues still up in the air, we should wait.”

City commissioners ultimately echoed statements made by Worldcenter boosters, who said enough time had passed.

The hearing ran long due to some political theatrics. Commissioner Marc Sarnoff opened the meeting by spending nearly 45 minutes refuting allegations by community activist Grace Solares that he shouldn’t vote because he had alleged conflicts of interest. Commissioners also took an hour-long recess to allow Commissioner Keon Hardemon and Miami Worldcenter representatives to negotiate a higher percentage of jobs for local residents, along with higher wages for those jobs.