City of Miami puts the brakes on Innovation Tower

Proposed Miami Innovation Tower
Proposed Miami Innovation Tower

Plans to erect Miami Innovation Tower, a 633-foot high-rise featuring five large LED signs, were dealt a major setback late Thursday when the Miami City Commission adopted an ordinance that repealed zoning code provisions known as Miami 21, that allow for a so-called “media tower” on the site proposed for the innovation tower.

There has been growing opposition to the proposed tower because its signs, which would be as large as 30,000 square feet, would be visible for miles, as well as from I-395 and I-95, and would flash advertisements, public art and other messages.

The high-tech tower is supposed to anchor a 10-acre technology district being proposed for one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, Overtown, by Miami Beach developer Michael Simkins. Commissioner Keon Hardemon, who represents the district and who is chairman of the Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Development Agency, backs the project.

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Critics of the project, which included neighborhood groups and activists, accused Simkins and the Overtown CRA of negotiating in secret to build the project. Under his agreement to build the tower, Simkins would pay the Overtown CRA $5 million prior to construction, and $1 million, or 3 percent of gross sales generated by the project every year after completion.

Hardemon was the dissenting vote as the commissioners voted 4-1, backing efforts by Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado. Earlier in the week, Regalado got support from the city’s Planning and Zoning Appeals Board to strip authority for media towers away from CRA boards and give it to commissioners, although no vote on that issue was taken Thursday. Regalado said he saw the issue as affecting the whole city and did not want to be seen as “taking away benefits from Overtown.” Thursday’s vote was on a first reading of the ordinance and commissioners will vote again on the issue.

Last week, Simkins’ company Innovate applied for permits to embed the LED signs within the skin of the proposed tower’s twisting façade and along its pedestal. Lawyers for Simkins argued Thursday the project was approved in 2002, and that it complies with Miami 21 standards. They also argued that the city’s efforts to shut down the $250 million project will deprive Overtown residents of hundreds of well-paying jobs, which they are guaranteed under the terms of the project. Simkins told the commission the site for his tower was specifically designated by the city for such a structure, and his project was a “real opportunity for one of the poorest parts of the county.”

Simkins also faces growing opposition from county officials. Responding to a letter from County Commissioner Xavier Suarez, the county attorney said on Thursday that the owners of Innovation Tower could face fines of $25,000 per day if they are found to be in violation of county and city of Miami sign codes.