Plans for water park, family center near completion
By Lou Ortiz
Plans for private developers to invest up to $40 million in a water theme park and family entertainment center at the Miami MetroZoo are nearly complete, officials say, with county commission action due this month.
"This builds an additional economic engine in the community," said Miami-Dade County Commissioner Dennis C. Moss, who is leading the effort for the developments. "This is something that I've been working on for a long time."
The water park and family center would rise in a parking lot at the zoo that totals 43 acres. Twenty-three acres would be used for the water park and 20 for the family center, which could also include a hotel.
The county would lease the land to one developer for both facilities or two developers that would each take on one project, officials said.
An initial draft plan for the water park calls for rides that feature slide towers, a wave/surf pool, family raft rides, a water coaster and an interactive play area.
Plans also call for the water park to host special events and activities and shows.
"It's very exciting," said Howard Gregg, assistant director for the Miami-Dade Park and Recreation Department.
He said both proposals would help drive up the zoo's annual attendance, now about 600,000.
The county expects investment in the water park to be $22 million to $25 million, said Mr. Gregg, adding that 500,000 persons are projected to visit the park annually.
For the family center, annual attendance is projected at 185,000, with an expected $10 million to $15 million investment, Mr. Gregg said.
"This would be totally developed by a private developer," Mr. Moss said. "The county might assist with infrastructure [funding] assistance."
He said since the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which destroyed parts of Homestead, Florida City and Miami, he has been trying to find a way to bolster the local economy.
Andrew caused $30 billion in damages, left 250,000 people homeless and damaged or destroyed 82,000 businesses in at least two states. About 100,000 people left Miami-Dade permanently.
The damage figures include destruction in Louisiana after the hurricane made its way into the Gulf of Mexico and then made a beeline for that state's coastline.
"You have to go from a vision to implementation," Mr. Moss said, "to create destinations to bring people in so they'll spend money. That's what the long-term aim is."
He said the proposed developments would increase tourism, create jobs and help local restaurants grow. The revenues generated by both facilities would go to maintain the zoo.
"You create synergy," Mr. Moss said. "One day people go to the zoo and the next day to the water park. The zoo touts the water park and the water park touts the zoo."
He said he hopes the developments become so attractive and popular that people going to Disney World in Orlando would make a side trip to Miami to visit the new park and center.
Mr. Gregg said a request for proposals for the water park will go to the county commission's Recreation & Cultural Affairs Committee this month.
A similar proposal for the family center could go to the same committee "within the next couple of months," he said. "It's going through last-minute reviews."
The draft proposal for the water park calls for the developer to sign a 20-year contract, with a county option to renew it for two additional five-year periods.
Design for the water park would include "water conservation through engineered solutions for water re-use, water reclamation and aquifer recharge" to maintain "a high quality of water within the system and is ecologically sensitive," the proposal says.
Shared parking for the developments would remain under control of the zoo. The water park proposal calls for 605 spaces.
Each project would require approval of the 13-member county commission after committee review and approval.