County must get federal OK to develop around MetroZoo
By Deserae del Campo
Miami-Dade County must win federal approval before it can seek a developer to create a $1 billion-plus entertainment district at MetroZoo that would include a water park, a ride-themed adventure park, vacation and resort hotels and improvements to the zoo.
When plans to create a water park between Florida City and Homestead were squashed, county officials set sights on MetroZoo to build a world-class entertainment district.
The county expects attendance at the park of 2.5 million people a year, five times the average 500,000 who have attended the zoo annually.
But before the county seeks a developer, land-use issues on the 740-acre county-owned property must be ironed out.
The federal government gave Miami-Dade 1,000 acres in the south part of the county in the mid-1970s, said W. Howard Gregg, assistant director of planning and development for the county's parks department. "The land is under a federal covenant, which allows the land's use for only recreation and open space. This is a standard covenant in accordance to the federal government.
"Locally, we are working with the federal government to transfer this covenant to another parks space land located near Tamiami Airport," said Mr. Gregg. "The county is looking to remove the public open space covenants on 42.8 acres of the 740 acres at MetroZoo for the water park development."
After the county removes the covenant from the land, it would be transferred to the West Kendall District Park, at Southwest 120th Street and 157th Avenue.
"The county owns the land," said Commissioner Dennis Moss, "and it was given to the county by the federal government. We just have to remove the provisions on the land before we can develop.
"This has been my vision," Mr. Moss said. "I have spearheaded this and am moving forward to get this done and make it our own Universal Studios in Miami-Dade."
Mr. Moss said a request for proposals for a bidder interested in the project is ready to go, but the land-use issue needs to be taken care of first.
"This will be a place for families and tourists to visit," he said. "It would create a tremendous number of jobs. We expect within the next five years to have something done on the land - either the hotel or construction of the water park."
The plan proposes several developments:
Miami Metrozoo: A master plan for the zoo, which opened in the 1980s, plans to increase the animal and geographic interactive exhibits such as Africa's Tropical Forest, Caribbean Islands and Australia exhibits. Construction is estimated at $377 million with an annual operating impact of $31 million and 2,054 permanent jobs.
The Adventure theme park would include Florida and Caribbean themes, rides, a central volcano island and lake. Construction costs are estimated at $200 million with an annual operating budget of $66 million and 3,883 new permanent jobs.
A resort hotel with 300 first-class rooms next to the theme park. Construction costs are projected at $60 million with an annual budget of $8 million and 540 new permanent jobs.
A vacation hotel with 200 rooms on zoo grounds. Construction costs are estimated at $26 million with an annual budget of $5.4 million, creating 160 permanent jobs.
A 20-acre water park with a wave pool, a water slide, a tidal pool, arcade areas, a retail component and food service. Construction cost is estimated at $22 million with annual operating impact at $28.6 million, creating 1,654 permanent jobs.