County to consider $1 billion entertainment complex at zoo
By Charlotte Libov
Miami-Dade commissioners are to consider a package of three ordinances today (7/6) to speed creation of a $1 billion entertainment district on 740 acres owned by the county at MetroZoo.
The destination would include a water park, a ride-themed adventure park and resorts.
"The vision seems to be moving forward at this particular time. The commission has embraced it," said Commissioner Dennis Moss, a key proponent. "I think it will be a great thing."
Included are measures to:
nRequest the US Army to remove a covenant preventing use of the site for anything but recreation and open space.
nHold a referendum Nov. 7 to seek approval of private development on county park land.
nGrant necessary approvals to establish a temporary Miami-Dade No Place Like Home affordable-housing project on the site.
The county's charter requires a referendum when the county contracts with a developer to create for-profit use on public park land, said W. Howard Gregg, assistant director of the parks department. He said such contracts have been signed many times - including deals to create restaurants at marinas - but before the requirement took effect. "This will be the first time we've actually gone to referendum to have authorization to do this."
The proposed development is outside the nearby Rockridge pinelands, a globally imperiled habitat, Mr. Gregg said, "so there is no direct environmental impact." A study was done for the National Park Service, he said, "and everything came up with a clean bill of health."
Proceeds from the entertainment district would help fund the zoo's expansion, Mr. Gregg said. "What the county is concerned about is the future sustainability of the zoo. So as the zoo grows, there is going to need to be additional operating revenues. And the whole concept behind the compatible attractions is that the net revenue from these attractions would go directly to the zoo."
A private developer is needed to design, build, operate and maintain the attraction, said Mr. Moss, because "we're not in the water-park business. We want to provide an opportunity for a brand-name water-park developer who does this all over the country to develop a water park on this location."
He said he's received queries from developers although he declined to identify them.
Once approvals are in place, the county is to request proposals.
"The (request for proposals) has been ready to move, but we need to work on land-use issues," Mr. Moss said.
The county expects park attendance of 2.5 million a year, five times the average 500,000 who annually attend the zoo. Construction is estimated at $22 million, with annual operating impact at $28.6 million, creating 1,654 permanent jobs.
"The pieces are coming together. There are real prospects and real possibilities," Mr. Moss said. "I'm really excited. This is not some pie-in-the-sky plan."