County commissioners voted 11-1 on Thursday to re-designate nearly 174 acres in unincorporated northwest Miami-Dade from “industrial and office” to “business and office” that will allow Triple Five to build 3.5 million square feet of retail space, a massive theme park and 2,000 hotel rooms on a vacant triangle between I-75 and the Florida Turnpike’s Homestead Extension.
The approvals represented the final legislative hurdle for Triple Five, a global developer of mega-malls and entertainment facilities, to move forward with its ambitious, controversial proposal.
During a marathon meeting that featured more than 50 speakers and a standing room only commission chamber, Triple Five CEO Don Ghermezian boasted that his company is creating a one-of-kind destination that will add nearly 10,000 new jobs to South Florida and generate about $60 million in development impact fees. “I am looking to create entertainment and retail components that you don’t find in this marketplace,” Ghermezian said. “We are the only developer suited to create this type of environment.”
Three years ago, Triple Five unveiled plans for American Dream Miami, which would supplant the company’s Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., as the largest shopping center in the U.S. If built, American Dream Miami would have a 16-story indoor ski slope, a 20-slide water park, a 14-screen 3-D movie theater, and a performing arts center representing 2.7 million square feet of entertainment and common space, plus the shopping component.
Since that time, residents in northwest Miami-Dade and neighboring Broward have mounted public opposition to the project due to concerns American Dream Miami will worsen traffic congestion on I-75 and the turnpike. Many showed up to the county commission meeting sporting green t-shirts emblazoned with the words, “American Dream Nightmare.” Other opponents had affixed thumbs-down stickers to their clothes. A traffic study shows American Dream Miami will generate 70,000 vehicle trips in and out of the property.
To mitigate traffic gridlock in and out of American Dream Miami,
Triple Five will be responsible for constructing $210 million in road and interchange improvements, including widening Miami Gardens Drive for a new bus lane from I-75 to Northwest 57th Avenue. It will also pay $5.9 million in upfront impact fees to expand five Miami-Dade bus routes to the mega-mall, as well as bring in Broward County bus service and private shuttles, and build a $12 million transit center.
However, commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, the only commissioner to vote against Triple Five, said the company’s offer was not enough to address the potential traffic issues adequately and American Dream Miami would undermine the county’s investment in a new rapid transit plan. “I wish Triple Five and the Ghermezian family all the best,” said Cava. “I am not going to able to vote for it.”
Competitors such as Simon Property Group, GGP, and Taubman also entered the fray by forming the group South Florida Taxpayers Alliance to oppose any effort to give Triple Five government subsidies for American Dream Miami. During the public hearing, lobbyists representing the alliance warned county commissioners that Triple Five has a history of demanding taxpayer financing and public funds for its projects.
Jeff Bercow, a government affairs and land use attorney representing the alliance, noted Triple Five scored $250 million in tax breaks from the Minnesota Legislature in 2013 for a Mall of America $1.5 billion expansion and that the company obtained $1.1 billion in tax-exempt bond financing for its American Dream Meadowlands project in New Jersey. Bercow suggested Miami-Dade officials prohibit Triple Five from seeking county financial assistance in the development agreement entered with the company.
“Tax dollars should not be used to line the pockets of these wealthy businessmen,” Bercow said. “Based on the extensive track record of Triple Five, we feel it is necessary to protect the public.”
Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, the attorney for Triple Five, dismissed Bercow’s comments as a veiled attempt by his mall-owning clients to hurt a new competitor. “They claim they want an equal playing field,” Diaz de la Portilla said. “But they want to place an unconstitutional restriction that doesn’t exist on any application Mr. Bercow has brought before this board and that doesn’t exist for any of the malls Simon owns in Miami-Dade or anywhere else.”
Diaz de la Portilla added, “You can’t really believe everything Simon says.”
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and several commissioners said there was no need to include the prohibition because they already informed Triple Five that the company would receive no county funds or tax breaks. “As long as I am here, it’s no,” Gimenez said. “I was very clear that we are not going to give any county funds for this project.”
Added Commissioner Rebeca Sosa: “I will support this for as long as there is no subsidy of any kind from this county to the entity.”