Walmart in downtown Miami? Company confirms discussions have taken place, but says no agreements have been made
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
Wal-Mart's search for a place to put a store along Miami's downtown corridor, including a bayfront site near the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, has drawn concern from residents and Miami officials alike.
They say they fear the traffic congestion the mega retailer could bring to an already-crammed downtown.
"I thought the idea for that neighborhood was to create a walking neighborhood and not a big box for the Beach," said City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, whose District 2 office has received numerous comments from the community disapproving of the discount retailer in that location.
But despite any objections, it appears the project's wheels are in motion.
Indiana developer Mark Siffin, president of Maefield Development Corp., is in talks with Wal-Mart representatives to have the retail giant occupy about 170,000 square feet on the second floor of his planned five-story retail complex known as City Square.
City Square is planned for 1431-1451 N. Bayshore Drive and 425 NE 13th St. behind the east hall of the performing arts center. The 130-foot-tall project is to include 641,104 square feet of retail space and 4,052 parking spaces.
A spokeswoman for Wal-Mart confirmed the talks but said the retailer has not settled on a site. "Wal-Mart has explored the City Square project among others in the downtown corridor, a predominantly underserved market," said Michelle Azel-Belaire, a Doral-based senior manager of public affairs for Wal-Mart.
"At this time, however, we do not have any agreements on any available commercial property in the area," she added.
Whether a big-box retailer fits in with Miami's new vision of an urban core — with performing arts centers, museums and high-end stores — remains to be seen.
About 100 feet away from the planned City Square site stands the performing arts center, and a few blocks farther down, the city is planning a $60 million redevelopment of Bicentennial Park to feature museums and a world-class park.
Mr. Sarnoff said the influx of high-volume traffic and "18-wheelers" driving around the performing arts center to get to the loading dock is of "grave concern."
Also, the city has agreed to contribute $50 million for a $900-million port tunnel project designed to take 18-wheelers out of Miami's urban core. Now the "superstore" is to roll more in, he said.
But, technically, the city's planning department already has approved the project.
Mr. Siffin obtained a major use special permit to build the retail center back in 2006, which allows him to include a Wal-Mart-type store without further approval from the planning department.
Unless the developer presents significant changes to the original plans, the City of Miami's planning department is not required to review and approve plans for the Wal-Mart because the permit allows for retail use, said Luciana Gonzalez of Miami's planning department.
Commissioners approved the City Square special permit before Mr. Sarnoff took office. The commissioner noted this week the city did not put conditions on the property's commercial use.
Mr. Sarnoff said there's not much he can do to change things.
"Presently, my hands are tied but should it (the retail complex) comes back for more permitting or changes then we can review it at that time."
Mr. Siffin, City Square developer, did not respond to requests for an interview.