Free Zone plans $200 million hotel, trade hub
By Suzy Valentine
Miami Free Zone officials are planning a $200 million hotel complex as part of an international trade hub they hope to complete by 2008.
Officials in Doral, where the duty-free zone is based, favors the project, which would rise on a parking lot at the front of the site, said Gary Goldfarb, executive vice president at the zone.
The Miami-Dade County Commission must approve a new rendering of the plat at Northwest 107th Avenue and Northwest 25th Street. The issue was withdrawn from the commission's Nov. 3 agenda.
Mr. Goldfarb said the design includes three parcels of 30, 10 and 7 acres in a bid to attract separate investors. Zone officials plan to resume their search for a hotel operator and finish plans next year.
"We've spoken to a couple of hotel groups," Mr. Goldfarb said. "We haven't yet determined all of the features for the complex, but our intent is to give value to a large parking lot. We've budgeted between $175 million and $200 million for the project that we hope to have completed by late 2007 or early 2008."
The concept features a hotel and conference center, a protocol room where dignitaries will be received and retail, which will account for up to 20% of the space available and would include a gym, a spa, a drugstore and restaurants. The development is to feature 100,000 square feet of Class A office space, addressing a growing need in Doral.
"There are other factors at play in Doral. Developers are demolishing 27 office buildings to make way for the Doral City Center mixed-use project," said Mr. Goldfarb. The Codina Group is building Beacon Town Center between Northwest 79th and 87th avenues along 53rd Street.
"That leaves five remaining office buildings in the city and will result in a loss of more than 1 million square feet of office space," said Mr. Goldfarb. "We need 1 million square feet to stay where we are."
Mr. Goldfarb said zone officials hope "to bring a large international law firm as a tenant. There could be a bank on site and some residential."
The project could significantly affect land-use characteristics in Doral. According to the Bureau of Economics and Business Research at the University of Florida, residential use last year accounted for 3.6% of land, commercial and office 3.2% and recreation 5.6%.
The complex could be the first such international hub in the US, Mr. Goldfarb said. "There is no one place here where there is a concentration of international trade. If you look at New York, trade is spread across the tri-county area. In California, five ports are used. But in Asia Pacific, trade is concentrated in one area so that all needs may be served by a visit to one location."
The project has many fans, he said. "We've spoken to the economic development organizationsand to local government officials," said Mr. Goldfarb. "The mayor of Doral, Juan Carlos Bermudez, is very excited."
As many as five Korean companies could take space at the Miami Free Zone, where officials plan to lure Japanese interests from Panama.
Mr. Gazitua visited Japan and Korea last month as part of a tour of Asia. He said he received written acknowledgements from 25 Korean companies zone officials have helped hook up with Miami representatives.
Mr. Goldfarb said it's too early to tell how much business will result from Mr. Gazitua's trip, "but there is a 20% return on leads we pick up."
During the Tokyo leg, Mr. Gazitua learned that several Japanese companies are using Panama as the base for their Latin American operations, he said. He took the opportunity at the 29th Japan-US Southeast Association summit to make presentations about the Free Zone.
Next year, officials of the zone and Enterprise Florida are to compile a database of Japanese companies based in Panama and begin a campaign to educate them about the state's competitive advantages.
"We're creating a strategic plan to target companies in Panama," Mr. Gazitua said. "In Tokyo, we talked about why the Free Zone would be a better point of distribution. We will make the same pitch to companies that are already operating from that Central American location."
A Japanese representative of the Japan-US Southeast Association is expected to come to Miami-Dade County next year to help implement the plan.
Though the plan is to bring companies to Florida in general, Mr. Goldfarb said the Miami Free Zone remains the obvious choice for headquarters.
"There are eight regions across the state, and in most of them, the free zones are operated by local government," he said. "About 75% of them are fuel or gas depots. Some focus on the manufacture of automotive parts rather than distribution."
Mr. Goldfarb compared Miami-Dade to Panama.
"That country makes sense for transportation if you're talking about a straightforward transfer of goods from Asia Pacific to a specific port in Latin America," he said. "There are also solid domestic trucking deliveries. But Panama has neither the transportation nor the infrastructure. Then there are the safety and security issues."
Panama doesn't live up to its billing, Mr. Goldfarb said. "It postures itself as a distribution center," he said, "when actually workers pick and pack and then send products on to Miami to be sent out. There are some cheap products that are suited to a Panama base because the cost of labor is a lot lower."
Miami Free Zone representatives will have another opportunity to present their case next year when Florida hosts the Japan-US Southeast Association summit. Mr. Gazitua expects twice the turnout there was in Tokyo this year.
"The state has been selected for the 30th annual meeting, to be held in Orlando," he said. "If there were 500 delegates in Japan, there could be 1,000 in Florida next year."