Metrozoo plans for entertainment center, water park and hotel sliding along
By Risa Polansky
With lingering land-use issues cleared away, plans for an entertainment center, 23-acre water park and 200-room hotel at Miami Metrozoo are sliding forward.
The park could be open within three years.
Miami-Dade commissioners last week unanimously approved land-use changes to zoo property, clearing the way for the county to seek contractors to develop the complex.
Plans for the water park call for rides that feature slide towers, a wave/surf pool, family raft rides, a water coaster and an interactive play area.
Last week's vote was "huge," said Commissioner Dennis Moss, who has led the push to develop. "We had to get past this. We couldn't move forward with an RFP (request for proposals) until our land-use issues were resolved."
A request for proposals for the water park portion should be advertised within 30 to 45 days, said Kevin Asher, supervisor of special projects for Miami-Dade's Park and Recreation Department.
Those for the entertainment center and hotel should follow shortly after, he said, though the date is unknown.
The projects must be spaced out slightly to facilitate smooth construction, Mr. Asher said, predicting all could be complete within four years.
The county plans to either lease the land to one developer for both the water park and entertainment center or to two developers to handle one project each. Developers are to be responsible for project costs, including improving public infrastructure, and are expected to invest up to $40 million.
The county would be on the hook only for signs, and road and parking improvements, set to be covered by general obligation bonds.
Paving the way to pinning down the contractors, commissioners agreed to change the designation of 170 acres of zoo land from Parks and Recreation to Miami Metrozoo Entertainment Area.
The county proposed such changes to the Florida Department of Community Affairs last year — the state considers Metrozoo a "development of regional impact" and has oversight authority — but the department in October asked for tweaks to the application, including adding intensity standards.
The county agreed to a revise to a maximum floor area ratio (the ratio of a building's floor area to the land it sits on) of .3 for the water theme park and .4 for the family entertainment center and hotel.
The state planning agency asked the county also to identify percentages of use for the project's elements. The hotel component is to comprise no more than 40% of the project.
Updated documents require a 2021 completion. Until then, the land is to be protected from down-zoning.
Mr. Moss said the entertainment center and water park should be done well before then.
"It's going to be completed earlier," he said, citing a two- to three-year timeline. "That's our goal, that's what we're pushing for."
To ease residents' concerns of how the massive development could affect the community, Mr. Moss assured that "there's no move to take anybody's property or to dislocate any of the residents" to build the 170-acre project and its planned 1,000-plus parking spaces.
Added Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, "Parks like this one deter crime in the community."
She said also that neighbors have welcomed the City of Miami's new Grapeland Water Park, which is closer to homes than the planned zoo expansion.
Commissioners lauded the zoo project and swiftly voted to move it ahead.
"All the great cities of the world have great zoos," Javier Souto said.
Joked Katy Sorenson, "Disney World will be nothing compared to Dennis (Moss) World."