Downtown convention hub sidetracked
Written by John Charles Robbins on June 25, 2014
Developers of the mega Miami Worldcenter, in the heart of downtown, were dealt a setback when the city’s Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board deferred a key component of the plan for three months.
MDM Development Group said it was prepared to begin building a massive $400 million convention center and hotel on the former Miami Arena site, between Northwest Eighth and Sixth streets and bordered on the east by North Miami Avenue.
The board’s 4-3 decision at a special meeting Monday sidelines plans for the Miami World Expo Center until at least the board’s Sept. 3 meeting. The deferral is to give opposing sides time to work out differences, according to the motion.
Attorneys for MDM Development Group, applicant on the 1,800-room Marriott hotel and convention center, and for Miami Worldcenter told the board it would be a mistake to postpone the project.
“On behalf of the expo center, I’m not in favor of any deferral,” said Tony Recio, an attorney for MDM.
He told the board developers have a “tight window” to begin work and want to be open by 2017, so they need to be in the ground by year’s end.
Ryan Bailine and Iris Escarra, attorneys representing Miami Worldcenter, opposed deferral.
“To defer at all [would be] a mistake,” said Mr. Bailine.
During Monday’s hearing, downtown residents and businesses spoke in favor of the proposal and against it. Those who support the Worldcenter and expo center said they look forward to rebirth of a rundown area into a thriving new neighborhood. Opponents voiced concerns about the impacts on traffic, parking and public access.
Some board members shared concerns of opponents who said the proposed zoning ordinance amendments would give too much authority to the planning department and strip some of the public’s right to voice views on the large development as it progresses.
The board was asked to approve two resolutions: one would expand the boundaries of the Miami Worldcenter site to include the old arena parcel, now bare ground, and the other would amend a special ordinance governing the overall project and allow modification of some design standards.
“My biggest concern is the ability of the public to come in and have meaningful review of a 30-acre project,” said Paul Savage, an attorney representing other business interests opposed to parts of the Worldcenter plan.
“This is really an unprecedented granting of authority to the planning director,” Mr. Savage said.
Planning staff disagreed, and stressed several times that all buildings would have to go through the warrant process, which requires notification to abutting property owners and affords public appeals.
The delay comes as the large development – on hold and inactive for many years – had finally shown evidence of life.
Miami Worldcenter, a sweeping project unveiled a half-dozen years ago, would replace more than 10 blocks of mostly vacant land with a mixed-use ocean of hotels, restaurants, stores, entertainment venues and more. The developer says it already has commitments for stores by Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s.