The Miami City Commission approved the lease transfer of Jungle Island to Aventura-based ESJ Capital Partners in a deal valued at $60 million.
The commission OK’d the deal at its meeting Thursday, touching on job requirements and improvements planned for the Watson Island theme park. Miami-Dade County and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will still have to approve the deal.
The leasehold transfer would involve the buyer assuming $45 million in owed payments: the park’s $30 million in principal debt and interest to the city of Miami, county and HUD, a loan from a private lender, deferred rent and other obligations.
The roughly 200 jobs that Jungle Island owner Bern Levine has yet to fill would be transferred onto the new owner. The majority of those jobs will be in the low to moderate income range, Jungle Island president John Dunlap said at the meeting.
ESJ, which is reportedly backed by European investors, is planning $10 million in short-term improvements to the 18-acre park, including a zip line, water features, and new dining and entertainment options. A hotel, which has been proposed before, would require a voter referendum, the city confirmed during Thursday’s commission meeting.
Jungle Island owner Bern Levine bought the park, then in Pinecrest, in 1988 and opened the Watson Island location in 2003. Levine said he spent $16 million of his own money to move and reopen the park, in addition to the debt the park has taken on.
The $60 million deal would give Levine and his partners $15 million, a third of which would be used to pay down debt, in addition to a transfer fee that would be at least $150,0000.