Miami Innovation Tower pushes for building permit

Proposed Miami Innovation Tower
Proposed Miami Innovation Tower

Miami’s Planning and Zoning Appeals Board signed off on Tuesday on Mayor Tomas Regalado’s plan that makes it harder for developers to erect so-called media towers like the 633-foot observation high-rise Michael Simkins wants to build in the city’s Overtown neighborhood.

At a public hearing Tuesday night, board members voted 7-0 to recommend approval of new legislation requiring city commission approval for media towers in Miami’s redevelopment areas. Under current law, the power of reviewing and approving media towers falls on the executive directors of the city’s community redevelopment agencies.

While addressing the board, Tony Recio, a land use attorney representing Simkins and his company Innovate Development Group, argued that the law, if enacted, would not apply to his client’s project because the developer has already submitted plans to the city and the Southeast Overtown/ Park West Community Redevelopment Agency.

Recio claimed the legislation was an unfair, unenforceable means to try to block his client’s project. “This is an attempt to pull the rug from under us,” Recio said. “To the extent there is any attempt to apply these new, after-the-fact regulations, we strongly object.”

Last week, Innovate applied for a permit with Miami’s building department to embed five large electronic signs within the skin of the proposed tower’s twisting facade and mounted along its pedestal. The signs, which would be as large as 30,000 square feet and would be visible from I-395 and I-95, will flash advertisements as well as public art and messages, according to Simkins.

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The high-tech tower is the centerpiece of a 10-acre technology district Simkins is proposing around 10th Street and Northwest First Avenue. In exchange for allowing him to build the tower, Simkins has agreed to pay the Overtown redevelopment agency $5 million upfront and at least $1 million every year after it opens.

However, opponents accuse Simkins and the Overtown CRA of negotiating in secret for months with little public involvement. In April, city commissioners in their capacity as CRA board delayed a vote on an agreement and denied audience members the opportunity to speak.

At Tuesday’s planning and zoning appeals board meeting, objectors were able to voice their concerns for the first time.

Peter Ehrlich, a member of the anti-billboard group Scenic Miami, said media towers with gigantic LED advertisements serve no public purpose. “Tourists visit Miami for our beaches, our scenery and our great weather,” he said. “We do not believe tourists visit Miami to see LED ads.”

Coconut Grove resident Janet McAliley echoed Ehrlich’s comments. “We should not should have such a monstrosity of a billboard tower,” she said “It is going to do nothing for the citizens of Miami. It will just provide more visual pollution.”

On Thursday, the Miami City Commission will consider whether to approve or deny Regalado’s proposed media tower legislation, as well as a measure placing a 120-day moratorium on permits for media towers. If both are approved, it could delay the Overtown CRA from finalizing the deal with Simkins at its June 29 meeting.