Miami's arts center advocates wave casino traffic red flag
By Scott Blake
A group formed to protect the $460 million Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and its surroundings in downtown Miami is raising new concerns about nearby traffic congestion from proposed casino resorts, and it could take a truckload of money to address it.
Concerned that the Arsht Center area would be overwhelmed by a giant resort casino, the Town Square Neighborhood Development Corp. is asking lawmakers not to approve mega-casino legislation without fully considering the traffic impacts.
Previous estimates have put the cost of downtown highway repairs at roughly $750 million, but those costs may be obsolete considering the extra traffic that would be generated by one or more casino resorts, said Town Square Chairman Armando Codina.
Malaysia's Genting Group is proposing to build the $3 billion-plus Resorts World Miami complex near the Arsht Center in the so-called "Town Square" neighborhood. The Asian conglomerate, with a market capitalization in excess of $45 billion and more than 50,000 employees, already owns a large stake in Miami-Dade County-based Norwegian Cruise Line.
Town Square and Arsht Center officials have been in "collegial" discussions and have been sharing information with Genting representatives about road improvements that would be needed if the project goes through as planned.
Such road work would be expected to include funding from Genting, said Mike Eidson, Arsht Center chairman and Town Square's treasurer.
"Genting would have to work with the county, the state and the city to fund whatever is necessary," Mr. Eidson said Tuesday. "We're saying this cannot be done unless there is the traffic infrastructure to accommodate it."
Genting representatives were not available Tuesday.
Before the Arsht Center opened in 2006, the surrounding neighborhood was a blighted area, Mr. Eidson said, but the area has experienced a renewal since then.
"About $10 billion has been invested in the area," he added. "We want to make sure that investment is protected."
He said Town Square plans to release a master plan for the neighborhood in coming weeks that will include traffic estimates for the area.
Town Square outlined its concerns in a letter this week to leaders of the Florida Legislature and lawmakers sponsoring casino bills, as well as to city and county officials.
"In our opinion, destination resort casino proposals cannot be considered without a clear understanding of how the attendant transportation and transit needs will be funded and implemented," Mr. Codina wrote.
"Government has also recognized this in their recent appeals to Tallahassee for a more considered and detailed evaluation of legislative proposals," Mr. Codina added. "Miami, a world-class city, deserves a world-class planning effort."
Genting's resort would be built at the current site of the Miami Herald and the Omni complex, located between Biscayne Bay and Biscayne Boulevard on the north side of Interstate 395 and the MacArthur Causeway. The company already has invested several hundred million dollars to purchase property for the project.
Genting has estimated its resort could draw several million visitors a year.
The main concerns Town Square cites:
nReconstruction of a regional transportation system, including the heavily traveled north downtown area near the Genting site and to the west, where I-395, State Road 836 and Interstate 95 meet.
Prior to the Genting proposal, that area of downtown highways "had been scheduled for reconstruction of roughly $750 million or more within the next decade," Mr. Codina wrote. "But we now know that this reconstruction plan may already be obsolete for the needs of just one large destination resort casino…"
nMaterial costs to the local street network.
nParking needs that may inundate the neighborhood.
"Parking needs for car-based destination resort casinos are also significant," Mr. Codina wrote. "While parking is a critical element of Town Square's future, we have a serious concern that casino resort parking demand could overwhelm the neighborhood."
Meanwhile, resort casino bills sponsored by state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, a Fort Lauderdale Republican, and state Rep. Erik Fresen, a Miami Republican, are pending.
Sen. Bogdanoff's bill was recently approved by the Senate Regulated Industries Committee but has more hurdles to clear before going to a vote by the full Senate. There has not yet been a House vote on Rep. Fresen's bill.
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