Miami Wilds developers countersue Miami-Dade over scuttled water park

Entity managed by Paul Lambert, Bernard Zyscovich and Michael Diaz Jr. alleges county Mayor Daniella Levine Cava breached contract by caving to political pressure from conservationists

Miami Wilds Countersues Miami-Dade Over Scuttled Water Park

From left: Miami Wilds developer Paul Lambert; Mayor of Miami-Dade County Daniella Levine Cava; Miami Wilds developers Bernard Zyscovich and Michael Diaz Jr. (Getty, Miami Wilds, Facebook)

The developers of Miami Wilds are accusing Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniela Levine Cava of killing a controversial water park deal to protect her reelection bid, a recent court filing states.

Miami Wilds countersued Miami-Dade on Monday, alleging the county breached a 2022 lease agreement allowing the company to build the water park, a 200-room hotel and up to 20,000 square feet of restaurants and shops on 66 acres at the Zoo Miami campus in an unincorporated area of southwest Miami-Dade. 

The Miami Wilds countersuit alleges Levine Cava killed the deal to “appease some of the political activists who make up her base.” 

Miami Wilds is led by Paul Lambert, Bernard Zyscovich and Miami attorney Michael Diaz Jr. Lambert leads Lambert Advisory, a Miami-based real estate and economic advisory firm that is not involved in Miami Wilds. Zyscovich leads his eponymous Miami-based architectural firm that designed the Miami Wilds hotel, but not the water park. 

In February, Miami-Dade sued Miami Wilds to terminate the contract, citing a recent federal ruling that put back in place deed restrictions at the Zoo Miami site. The restrictions prohibit leasing and developing the vacant land for commercial use, the county’s lawsuit states. 

Mitchell Jagodinski, a lawyer representing Miami Wilds, said Levine Cava undermined the lease agreement with his client for political reasons. 

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“This case, at its core, is quite simply about a breach of contract,” Jagodinski said. “It is a self-inflicted wound by Mayor Levine Cava.” 

In a statement, a Levine Cava spokesperson denied the mayor allowed politics to guide her decision to terminate the Miami Wilds lease.

“Politics has nothing to do with her positions,” the statement said. “When it became clear that the hurdles with the federal government remained, the proposed project grew more challenging, and extensions were exhausted at this point.” 

County officials have been battling conservation groups for many years over the possible redevelopment of the 66 acres, which is a natural habitat that was previously owned by the National Parks Service. During public hearings last year, Zoo Miami’s celebrity spokesperson, Ron Magill, joined environmentalists in publicly opposing the project. 

In 2022, Bat Conservation International and Tropical Audubon Society, as well as Tropical Audubon President Jose Barros, sued Miami-Dade to stop the project. The plaintiffs alleged that the county illegally allowed the development to proceed without first seeking a voter referendum. Last year, a Miami-Dade Judge granted partial dismissal of the lawsuit, but Bat Conservation and Tropical Audubon have a pending appeal, court records show.

The acreage is home to endangered species such as the Miami tiger beetle, Florida bonneted bat, Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak butterfly and Florida Leafwing butterfly, the Tropical Audubon lawsuit states.