The new owners of Jungle Island are one step closer to making improvements to the park after the Miami-Dade County Commission unanimously approved transferring unpaid county loans to ESJ Capital Partners, the Aventura-based real estate firm that plans to take over the park’s lease.
Now, the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development is left to approve the deal, which involves Jungle Island owner Bern Levine selling the Watson Island lease and park debt to ESJ. The Miami City Commission approved the lease transfer in November.
ESJ, backed by European investors, said it plans to spend more than $80 million in the deal, according to the Miami Herald. That includes about $10 million in improvements like new waterfront restaurants, a zip line, water park and lazy river. A hotel has also been proposed for the 19-acre property, but that would require a voter referendum. ESJ also said it wants to increase ticket sales from the average 315,000 visitors a year to 415,000 visitors within five years.
The new deal gives the owners five years to hit a previously failed job creation target, the Herald reported. While Jungle Island has been making payments on loans tied to the park’s 1998 move from Pinecrest, it still owes money on past payments. The park will be required to make mandatory payments starting in 2020, plus $2 million to ZooMiami. [Miami Herald] – Katherine Kallergis