Miami Wilds theme park zoo lease talks continue
Written by Camila Cepero on December 20, 2016
Just under three months ago, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced it was listing the Miami tiger beetle as endangered, and with that, the hazy fate of the Miami Wilds theme park became even hazier.
It will be nearly a year before developers learn if the project is deemed to impede the beetle’s disappearing habitat.
“The lease negotiations are still on track,” said Paul Lambert, a member of Miami Wilds LLC.
“Everyone on the county side, and Miami Wilds of course, is hopeful that the administration can take the item to [the county commission] in early 2017,” Mr. Lambert said.
The project has been separated into two smaller projects, each with different components.
The first of the two is to be on Zoo Miami property and include a water park, hotel and a small commercial component.
The larger vision of the theme park falls into the second project, which is to include the theme park itself, a more sizeable retail component, entertainment, an additional hotel development and some sports-related developments.
Initially, both projects were one. Thus, when the concept of two separate projects was introduced, they were still contingent upon one another – there could be no second project without the first.
But developers were able to financially separate the first project from the second, making it possible for the first project to move forward while the second is stuck in limbo.
Before the second project could ever move forward, Miami Wilds LLC would need to acquire land – which could potentially contain beetle habitat – to build on. The land itself is currently government-owned US Coast Guard land and would only become part of the Miami Wilds project if the Coast Guard were to sell or transfer the land, as is planned.
Miami tiger beetles need bare or sparsely vegetated, sandy habitat patches that are found within pine rockland habitat to survive. Habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation have destroyed about 98% of the historical pine rockland habitat in Miami-Dade County.
The Coast Guard land contains pine rocklands, so the sale or transfer of the land would be reviewed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service under the National Environmental Policy Act.
The Miami Wilds development footprint was designed to exclusively stay within a mowed grass field on the Coast Guard property and away from any forested area, but now even that plan might be derailed if tiger beetle habitat is found in the area.
There has been no change with the plans for the second project since the beetle’s endangered designation, Mr. Lambert said.
Larry Williams, Florida state supervisor for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, previously told Miami Today that the critical habitat designation for the Miami tiger beetle is not part of the endangered species listing at this time but will be proposed later in a separate action.
The service anticipates proposing critical habitat for the Miami tiger beetle by September 2017.
The project has already been approved for a $13.5 million county Economic Development Fund grant.
The first project also will revitalize the zoo’s parking lot, Mr. Lambert said, which currently has no landscaping or lighting, preventing the county from hosting any night-time events.
“We’re totally confident in the need for a water park and all of our market analysis show that it will be a great addition in a great place,” he said.
“Really, the only water park in South Florida is in Riviera Beach, and it’s a long schlep up to that water park. [Miami Wilds] is a great thing for South Florida, and all projections are showing that it’ll kick it in terms of its ability to perform.”