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Front Page » Business & Finance » Miami Wilds theme park zoo lease talks continue

Miami Wilds theme park zoo lease talks continue

Written by on December 20, 2016
Miami Wilds theme park zoo lease talks continue

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.”

7 Responses to Miami Wilds theme park zoo lease talks continue

  1. DC Copeland

    December 21, 2016 at 9:57 am

    This would all become moot if the Coast Guard just handed over the space to a responsible caretaker like the National Parks Service.

  2. commenter

    December 22, 2016 at 1:53 pm

    There is already a place for that it’s called Orlando. Do they realize the turnpike exit to 152nd is a nightmare?

  3. Tellit Likeitis

    December 28, 2016 at 12:26 am

    I love how this county’s inept politicians going back as far as the 1940’s have failed to require developers to leave nature preserves in just about every housing and industrial development in the county like other counties and cities in this state have done. Our politicians have long had the “pave over every inch” mentality and that’s why there’s only 2% of the natural pineland left and why the percentage of our tree canopy is pathetically low. In addition, this county’s incompetent politicians failed to land-bank any land in the county for future use as Beckham’s soccer stadium, water parks, amusement parks, etc.

    The county and state have consumed federal land and airports so Dade County Jr. College could be built where the Miami-Dade College North Campus site is, so Amelia Earhart Regional Park could be built just north of Hialeah, so FIU could be built at the old Tamiami Airport, so MetroZoo (now ZooMiami) could be built at the former Richmond Naval Air Station, etc. If it wasn’t for federal property purchases many decades ago this county and the state would have had to spend a fortune buying land for the north campus of Miami-Dade College, FIU, Amelia Earhart Park and Metro Zoo.

    And now they want Coast Guard property. I thought the Coast Guard told the county that they would have to find them a suitable replacement property before they would move? Of course the county can’t find a suitable replacement property because they’ve allowed most of the county to be paved over without banking huge chunks of land for future use. The lack of foresight, and lack of concern for the environment, by our county’s elected officials is downright appalling. Only two percent of the pineland is left and they want to screw that up by allowing commercial development of the former University of Miami pineland property and this water park next to the zoo? Leave the property in federal hands because this county’s government can’t be trusted to do much of anything right, especially when it comes to development and the environment.

    Mr. Lambert is omitting facts about other water parks in South Florida, and distorting the truth, when he says that the closest water park is in Riviera Beach. He conveniently fails to mention Grapeland Heights Park in Miami, C. B. Smith Park in Pembroke Pines and isn’t there a huge commercial water park proposed for the east side of Ft. Lauderdale Executive Airport?

    • MP

      January 5, 2017 at 10:51 am

      great comment ! #Exactly

  4. Grant Stern

    December 29, 2016 at 9:52 am

    In Miami old bad ideas never die, they just fade away… The parking lot is authorized for development already. The endangered species act will keep the Coast Guard from ever selling their base for development. So stop trying lobbyists. We all know this is a tail wagging the dog deal driven by slimy county hall lobbyists.

  5. Cully Waggoner

    December 29, 2016 at 1:16 pm

    It would be great if Miami Today could actually report a few facts, rather than put out yet another press release kind of story like this. The truth is out there, but it seldom gets reported.

    Let’s start with the U.S. Coast Guard. Yes, the County got 13.5 million to give the Coast Guard to move and the Coast Guard said no and the time limit on that Grant expired last year and the County would need to reapply.

    That 13.5 million was part of a larger 130-million-dollar tax dollar spending plan that the County was expected to spend for infrastructure improvements around a site built by multimillionaire developers for multibillion dollar international corporations 20th Century Fox and Sony. Why is the County on the hook for 130 million for people with such deep pockets? The $130 million is listed in the Miami Wilds presentation, not that Miami Today bothered to look. It included $24 million for Wildlife Walk and Miami Wilds Shuttle, $40 million for parking, $26.5 million for Site preparation/modifications and utilities (like the water pipe the County just laid down) and another $26 million for onsite and offsite roadways.

    Then the County quietly bought Southern Anchor and is waiting for the remaining families that live there in the former HFA Miami site to move out so the County can give that land to Miami Wilds. Recently the County used part of the Southern Anchor site as a dumping ground for construction debris while they tore up the only road into and out of the area for, wait for it… a new Water Pipe. Is it just a coincidence that this new water main is going right past where they want to put in a water park, I think not.

    The construction dump the County created was very close to the known Miami Tiger Beetle habitat, while the Hotels that Miami Wilds want to build are right on top of it. I wonder how often DERM showed up to inspect it for hazardous waste. I personally have walked the Pine Rocklands with the Zoo’s permission and guidance and saw a number of rare and endangered animals and plants living there. It’s not a secret that more than a dozen federally endangered or threatened species live in this Life Boat Habitat. Nor, is it a secret that the County has already paved over more than 98% of the original Pine Rocklands, that are a globally imperiled site and unique to South Florida.

    The question is why did the County not add Southern Anchor to their Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) Program? The answer is they can’t make any money off of the land if they did. The way the County loves to pave over everything, I’m amazed that they saved any of it. With less than 2% of the original Miami Rock Ridge and Pine Rocklands left undeveloped, it’s time for the County to stop paving over everything.

    Our County Mayor and Commissioners are full of bad ideas, really bad ideas like Miami Wilds, the Coral Reef Commons, the Walmart Supercenter retail and residential project with 900 apartments they want to put next to Zoo Miami as well. Because the County has never met a developer that they didn’t covet. That they didn’t let pave over everything. The County will argue these projects bring jobs! Yes, lots and lots of minimum wage dead end jobs, because the County lacks the vision needed to attract and bring in higher paying jobs from major corporations and manufacturing.

    Then there are the lies Mr. Lambert spreads “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.” I’m guessing he’s never been to the many night time events that Zoo Miami puts on every year, “Brew At The Zoo” is a massive annual event or the Polar Express that the Gold Coast Railroad Museum puts on either. Perhaps he did not notice the trees that line the parking lot, I wonder if he has ever even been to the site.

    One thing nobody seems to note, is that Falcon Gate, the Zoo’s Main Gate No. 1, closes in the early evening and is not normally manned after that. The water park, the hotels, the retail space that Miami Wilds has planned will be inside that locked gate. So, who will pay to keep it open or at least manned after hours? How will hotel guests get back in after dark? Why does the Zoo’s Security need to be compromised for Miami Wilds?

    “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.” Here again Mr. Lambert is wrong and misinforming people for his gain, a simple Google Search “Water Parks Miami” is all you need. Grapeland Water Park is in Miami along with water attractions and pools in a lot of South Florida Parks. I would suggest he compare Miami Wilds to another infamous South Florida Water Park, Six Flags Atlantis.

    Six Flags Atlantis was located in Hollywood, Florida along I-95 and Stirling Road. It lasted from 1982 to 1992. It too was a major water park that was part of a huge corporation and in the end, it failed, in part due to the almost daily thunderstorms, expensive maintenance costs and ultimately Hurricane Andrew. So, I have to wonder if Miami Wilds will be the next Great White Whale that the County serves up and sticks the taxpayers with the bill. Will it too be abandoned in just a few years the way Miami Arena was?

    Since 1997, Commissioner Dennis Moss and his merry band of County officials have been trying to bring a water / theme park to South Dade. They have failed numerous times, as noted in the Miami Wilds presentation. “4 County Mayors, 4 County Managers, 33 County Commissioners” have all failed in the past. The reason they failed is it is a horrible idea. So, Miami Wilds should also fail to get approved and go away like the rest of them did too.

    Coral Reef Drive, SW 152 Street is the ONLY way in or out. It currently serves over 61,000 cars per day and cannot be widened or improved to handle any more traffic. It already is gridlocked several hours every morning and afternoon as it is. To add Miami Wilds and Coral Reef Commons into the area would be devastating, increasing traffic by 30k cars or more each day. The quality of life of those living in Deerwood, Bonita Lakes, Three Lakes and Country Walk would suffer and the property values would plummet.

    The last time the County Commission had a hearing about the area was for the CRA that would have declared the former UM South Campus next to the Zoo blighted. The County paid $39k to a consultant that had no idea where they were or what they were looking at. The County needed it declared blighted, so that is what the consultant said. If it were to be declared blighted, then a CRA could be issued and they could develop the area. Which really would make a globally impaired Pine Rockland blighted by paving it over.

    Members of The Miami Pine Rocklands Coalition showed up to speak before the Commission and did. The County was so concerned that they pulled the CRA from the Agenda BEFORE we arrived, but we still stood tall and spoke out against this injustice. We’re looking forward to coming back to speak before the Commission again and again and for as many times as it takes for them to understand what they are doing is wrong.

    Save It Don’t Pave It

    Cully Waggoner

    Vice President
    Miami Pine Rocklands Coalition

    • MP

      January 5, 2017 at 11:01 am

      interesting information