Ripley's, Swerdlow teaming up to propose Miami aquarium attraction
By Paola Iuspa
Swerdlow Group and Ripley Entertainment Inc. executives confirmed Tuesday they have formed a partnership and are looking for a site for an aquarium attraction in Miami.
The proposed 115,000-square-foot tourist destination would be part of another development, said Bob Masterson, president of Orlando-based Ripley Entertainment.
He said the aquarium needs 8 acres. Ripley's officials do not have a site chosen but he said they are looking from Watson Island to Virginia Key and Key Biscayne to Park West, near downtown Miami.
"We looked for an area that is close to the water, with good visibility and good transportation," said Mr. Masterson, whose company produces the Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum and Ripley's aquariums in South Carolina and Tennessee and other attractions.
For a Miami site, Otto Boudet, senior adviser for economic development with the Miami mayor's office, has said Ripley executives were interested in the Park West area, east of the Miami Arena.
City Commissioner Johnny Winton, whose district includes Park West, said he met with Mr. Masterson and knew of the combined project, which would require buying "a lot of land" west of Biscayne Boulevard. Late last month, he said the mayor received a letter from Ripley saying they expect to submit a proposal in September.
"We are involved in another project outside the country and have to complete that one before we start working on the Miami project," Mr. Masterson said Tuesday. "Aquariums are very complex, so we need to be very careful" with what we propose.
He said the nearest similar attraction is The Florida Aquarium in Tampa, run by another company. He also said what he envisions is different from the Miami Seaquarium on Rickenbacker Causeway.
Mr. Masterson said he picked Miami because it has similar characteristics to sites of Ripley's other aquariums in Gatlinburg, TN and Myrtle Beach, SC.
The Miami area has a large population base, ideal to support the venture, he said.
Mr. Masterson said he could not comment on the other portion of the project to be developed by Michael Swerdlow, of the Swerdlow Group. Mr. Swerdlow said he would make an announcement about that concept in a month.
"It is kind of premature," he said. "I expect that if we propose something, it will be something that the city will accept. We will not engage any lobbyists to get it approved."
Swerdlow Group is a private real estate company that looks for opportunities in undervalued real estate sectors such as retail centers, industrial parks and urban revitalization projects, including city centers with themes and multifamily residential development. In the past, Mr. Swerdlow has hired City of Miami Commissioner Arthur Teele Jr., a lawyer, to work for him.
"We did not hire him as a lobbyist," Mr. Swerdlow said. "He did some legal work for us."
Commissioner Teele could not be reached Tuesday for comment.
If the Ripley-Swerdlow plan is submitted, Commissioner Winton said it would be up to Miami's city attorney to determine if Mr. Teele has a conflict of interest.