The South Florida Regional Planning Council on Wednesday voted 5-4 against American Dream Miami, the 6.2 million-square-foot shopping mall and theme park that was approved by the Miami-Dade County Commission in May.
What does this mean for the project being billed as the nation’s largest mall? The council’s vote acts as a recommendation for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
Now, the state agency has final approval of the project. But even if it were not approved, that “would not kill the program,” said council member Steve Geller, a Broward County commissioner who was one of four “yes” votes.
“They would send it back with instructions and reasons why it was rejected. Then [the developers] would have the opportunity to revise it and resubmit,” he said.
During Wednesday’s meeting, the planning council considered the potential environmental and traffic impact of the 174-acre development, which has been a main point of opposition in the community.
According to a presentation given by consultants for the Florida Department of Transportation, projected traffic surveys show that by 2040 an extra 130,000 travelers would be added to nearby highways, particularly Florida’s Turnpike and Interstate 75 south. The presentation included interchange improvements to mitigate traffic along the I-75 corridor, including relocating existing ramps and building a partial interchange at Northwest 178th Street.
FDOT told the council that the road construction would need to be completed before the opening of the mall, which is proposed to be built out by 2023.
“Who are we kidding? It’s not happening in five years,” said Greg Ross, the council’s first vice chair and mayor of Cooper City. “To come before us and say it could be done by then? Let’s be honest, it’s not.”
Ross voted against the project. Council member Daniella Levine Cava, who is a Miami-Dade County commissioner, also voted no.
“I have been opposed to the American Dream mall … because of my concerns primarily with traffic and impacts on the environment,” said Levine Cava, who was the only Miami-Dade commissioner to vote against the project in May.
Geller said he voted yes because he wasn’t presented with evidence to vote against the project.
By Ellie Rushing
A panel of South Florida mayors and commissioners on Wednesday took multiple swipes at a pair of controversial development projects, one a 175-acre retail theme park planned in Northwest Miami-Dade and the other a new toll expressway for West Kendall.
Votes declaring both projects out of step with regional growth plans are largely symbolic, since the Miami-Dade commission and Florida have authority over both ventures.
The thumbs-down for the American Dream Miami mega-mall comes weeks after the Miami-Dade County Commission granted the $4 billion venture final zoning approval.
But the pushback from the South Florida Regional Planning Council for the planned 14-mile extension of the 836 expressway into undeveloped land in western Miami-Dade comes less than two months before a planned final vote on a project championed by county Mayor Carlos Gimenez. On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from West Miami, scrambled the debate by issuing a statement saying he opposed the current 836 extension plan.
At Wednesday’s meeting of the planning board, members questioned the rush to approve a $1 billion toll-funded project before the final route has been picked. Board member Greg Ross cited a Miami Herald article from June laying out last-minute changes to the northern part of the extension and two alternate corridors that are the current options for the southern end.
“Between the writing of that,” asked Ross, the mayor of Cooper City in Broward, “and now, have you detailed for us the exact route of the expansion?”
Juan Toledo, head of engineering for the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, which would build the expressway, said the final route will be coming soon but the options all fall within a fairly narrow corridor.
“We have that alignment pretty well defined,” he told Ross. “It will be solidified before the vote in September.”
Lourdes Gomez, deputy director of the county’s Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources, said the County Commission approved forwarding three potential alignments to state regulators for review before the final vote on Sept. 27.
“They are all in play,” she said.
The 836 debate has environmental groups and smart-growth advocates on one side arguing against Miami-Dade adding more highway miles in the western reaches of the county, near the Everglades and low-lying wetlands around underground water supplies. Kendall residents have packed town meetings on the plan, arguing they deserve traffic relief in an area cut off from the pricey rail options that they still have to help pay for.
Staff for the planning commission recommended a vote against the 836 project, which won preliminary support from the County Commission in a June 20 vote. A report from the council cited unanswered questions on “potential impacts to wetlands,” the sustainability of a proposed express bus route running on the shoulders of the extended toll road, and what it will mean for Miami-Dade to lose the farmland needed to build what’s been billed as the “Kendall Parkway.”
The expressway authority, an appointed board best known as the MDX, would build and manage the road, with all of the expenses covered by existing surplus tolls and new toll revenue collected on the expanded 836. Miami-Dade commissioners are involved because the extension would cross the county’s Urban Development Boundary, the imaginary line that separates rural areas from large residential subdivisions and commercial projects.
Allowing the expressway to cross the Urban Development Boundary requires the commission to change the county’s master development plan. Rather than the toll board asking for the change, Gimenez, who serves as chairman of the MDX, had his administration pursue the application with the county itself. That’s raised questions about whether the extension is getting the kind of strict regulatory review it should.
“It creates a real conflict of interest in my opinion,” said Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, a member of the planning council.
Levine Cava was one of only two no votes in the preliminary commission vote earlier this summer. Other commissioners warned they may switch sides by the time the final vote arrives.
Rubio’s statement on Tuesday struck to the heart of a compromise that Gimenez had helped forge to build support for the project by inching the alignment farther west, away from residential neighborhoods. Rubio said he would urge federal agencies to “oppose” the 836 extension “until it is aligned as far east as feasible and includes provisions that will guarantee an effective and enduring ‘West Kendall Everglades Buffer’ that prevents rather than encourages additional development in the project area.”
The senator hasn’t elaborated on how far west he would accept the route. But a push to the east from the current alignment could cost key votes for final approval. “It would be a dead project if it comes farther east,” said Commissioner Joe Martinez, who represents West Kendall.
Jack Osterholt, a Miami-Dade deputy mayor, urged the planning council to delay voting on the project if members felt they simply needed more information.
“If you vote no,” he said, “they’re not going to read four paragraphs down to see why you voted no.”
The planning council has no authority to reject a project, but its opinions can influence state and county decisions. They also can be fodder for lawsuits trying to overturn planning decisions.
Wednesday’s meeting touched on two projects that have received extra attention this week through the political sphere. Along with Rubio weighing in on a county road extension, Democratic candidates for governor have been sniping over the American Dream project because of its connections to frontrunner Gwen Graham.
The former congresswoman’s family business, the Graham Companies, partnered with American Dream developer Triple Five to pursue approvals of the mega-mall and a Graham Companies commercial and residential venture to the south.
With environmental groups leading the charge against American Dream, Graham is facing opposition ads accusing her of siding with big business over the Everglades. Graham, who owns a significant chunk of stock in her family’s company, has called the allegations baseless since she left the Graham Companies board in 2015 when she entered Congress.
This was the first vote on the 836 project by the council, but the second for the American Dream mega-mall. Members took the unusual step of voting to declare a project as inconsistent with a regional growth plan after voting to declare it consistent in 2017. American Dream representatives did not make a presentation at the meeting, and council members agreed to hold a second session to reconsider Wednesday’s vote after hearing from the developers.
American Dream’s agreement with Miami-Dade bars the six-million-square-foot complex from opening if several new interchanges aren’t finished around the property, which sits between the Florida Turnpike and I-75. Council members mocked the idea of Florida constructing major new highway interchanges in time for the complex’s planned opening in 2023, and questioned whether Miami-Dade would actually bar the massive project from opening due to delays.
“Who are we kidding?” Ross said. “It’s not happening in four years.”
A lobbyist for American Dream issued a statement Wednesday evening lashing out at the planning council and accusing it of favoring a large would-be competitor in Broward.
“Today’s vote is meaningless in that it has no impact whatsoever on our project going forward,” wrote Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a former state senator and a land-use lawyer for Triple Five. “Their vote provided further support for the claim by many that the [planning council] is nothing but a political body pandering to their special interests (i.e. the Sawgrass Mills Mall in Broward).”
by Douglas Hanks
HIALEAH, Fla. - The American Dream Miami, a gigantic, $4 billion project for a retail and entertainment complex in unincorporated northwest Miami-Dade County, suffered a setback Wednesday after a South Florida panel recommended the project be delayed amid concerns over increased traffic.
The South Florida Regional Planning Council voted 5 to 4, finding the project was not in compliance because of the strain the mega-mall would put on an already congested Interstate 75. Council members were also concerned the mall could open before the needed infrastructure improvements were completed.
The mall is set to open on Black Friday 2023, but in the meantime, a new exit off I-75 and two state roads need to be constructed. Council members, including Broward County Commissioner Steve Geller, were skeptical that those projects would be done by November 2023.
However, the planning council also agreed to reconsider its recommendations at a special meeting so the mall's developers can defend their proposals.
The South Florida Regional Planning Council's findings are merely recommendations to the state. Florida officials could still decide the project should move forward as is.
The project was approved by the Miami-Dade County Commission in May.
The council decision on the mega-project was limited to traffic issues, Geller said. Other organizations have raised concerns about the project's impacts on the Florida Everglades.
Developers claim the project will create 14,000 permanent jobs and attract 30 million visitors. Opponents' concerns were centered on traffic, property value and cannibalizing jobs from other malls.
By Tim Swift
Nearly 20 years ago, Bob Graham found himself in an unusual place: At odds with environmental groups and accused of a conflict of interests.
Miami officials were trying to provide relief to a busy Miami International Airport, and they came up with two options: Build an airport in Homestead, where it would be sandwiched between two national parks. Or build one in Opa-locka, next to the headquarters of Graham’s family company, the Graham Companies.
Graham, who was then a U.S. senator and who had served as Florida governor from 1979 to 1987, had for years backed the Homestead proposal, infuriating environmentalists. They protested outside his campaign offices and accused him of siding with his financial interests over his environmental ones. He eventually backed away from the idea, and the airport was never built.
Almost two decades later, his daughter is the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for governor and faces questions of her own about the family company.
What was once a personal dilemma for Gwen Graham — whether or not to publicly support the family company’s involvement in the American Dream Miami mega-mall project — has become a political one, as her opponents publicly blast her for refusing to take a position on it.
Over the weekend, billionaire Palm Beach developer Jeff Greene aired television ads from Graham’s interview with CBS4 Miami’s Jim DeFede, highlighting her struggles to respond to questions about the mall.
Graham’s campaign came back with an ad of its own on Tuesday, attacking Greene for going after her father. (Greene’s ad does not mention Graham’s father, but does refer to her “family’s ties” to the mall.)
Greene denied it and shot back: “Gwen Graham is no Bob Graham.”
Two of Graham’s other Democratic opponents have also criticized the plan. Winter Park developer Chris King brought it up in an Aug. 2 debate. Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine’s campaign strategist said he has opposed it from the beginning “because it doesn’t represent his vision for a 21st century economy for South Florida and the entire state.”
Environmental groups are adamantly opposed to the American Dream project because it would place a 175-acre entertainment complex complete with submarine rides and an indoor ski slope near the Everglades.
Although Greene has characterized the project as being “in the Everglades,” it would be about five miles away, separated by asphalt companies and rock quarries. But environmentalists fear that it will spur additional development on the western boundary of Miami-Dade County.
Kimberly Mitchell, executive director of the Everglades Trust, has been adamantly against it, along with the Sierra Club and a variety of other groups. Despite those misgivings, however, Mitchell’s group endorsed Graham on Monday.
“While we remain concerned that development will push the urban development boundary further west toward the Everglades, we recognize that the mall is within the current urban development boundary, and we now know Gwen Graham has nothing to do with the project,” Mitchell said in a statement.
Yet Graham does stand to profit from its development.
While the mall is being built by the company that created Mall of America, the Graham Companies own part of the land where it would be built. In addition, the Graham Companies plans on building a mixed-use project on 300 acres south of the mall. Both the mall and the Grahams’ commercial project received zoning approval by Miami-Dade County commissioners in a 9-1 vote in May.
The family company, founded decades ago, is Graham’s greatest source of wealth. She owns nearly $14 million in company stock, and she made $830,000 in income last year from the company, according to her most recent financial disclosure.
Graham was an at-large member of the company’s board until she resigned in 2015, when she became a member of Congress. Her campaign says that she has had no influence over the development of the project. Her share of the company stock is less than 5 percent, and she owns less than 1 percent of voting stock, her campaign says.
To avoid any conflicts, Graham has said she would place her assets in a transparent trust (her father kept his company assets in a blind trust controlled by his brother).
And if aspects of the project reach the state level, she would have her three counterparts on the Cabinet decide — the attorney general, chief financial official and commissioner of agriculture. The state would get involved in some aspects of the project — developers can’t proceed without implementing some $200 million in roadway widening and interchange expansions.
“I am proud of my family’s commitment to public service and my priority is making sure there isn’t even the appearance of a conflict of interests,” Graham said in a statement last week.
Graham’s spokesman, Matt Harringer, said in a statement that she “believes local communities should have the first and final voice on the project and to date, they have strongly supported it.”
Greene’s spokeswoman, Claire VanSusteren, said objections are over the project and Graham’s refusal to take a stance on it. She said that if Graham’s family needed the project for its very survival, taking a stance on it would truly put Graham in a difficult position.
“It’s a tough position to be in if it was something that was threatening their livelihood, and it’s not,” VanSusteren said. “This is not an instance of a family that’s struggling to make ends meet. This is something that they’re choosing to do to grow their net worth.”
By Lawrence Mower
Lily Stefano ran against the mayor of Medley two years ago and lost. This summer a lawyer she didn’t know representing a client he wouldn’t name asked her to try and unseat another incumbent: Miami-Dade Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz.
“This is not a joke or anything like that,” Manuel Diner, a Broward County lawyer, said in the voice mail Stefano said she received in June. “I represent a client who is eager to have someone of your quality and experience and professionalism run for office and hopefully take a seat on the County Commission.”
In a follow-up phone call, Stefano said Diner named the District 12 incumbent as the target and said: “We need to get that a-hole out.”
Diner did not respond to interview requests. His reported passion for ousting Diaz adds him to a list of people linked to the American Dream Miami mega-mall who are trying to have someone replace the four-term commissioner.
Diaz is the hometown commissioner for American Dream, a proposed $4 billion retail theme park by Triple Five, the Canada-based developer of Minnesota’s Mall of America. In May, Diaz sponsored legislation Triple Five had sought for several years: final zoning approval for the 175-acre project on undeveloped land in Northwest Miami-Dade, where the Florida Turnpike meets I-75. American Dream would bring the largest mall in America to Miami-Dade in a complex so large it plans to have an indoor ski slope, submarine rides and an amusement park.
Diaz also sponsored legislation that Triple Five resisted: a preemptive ban on granting county subsidies for the project. American Dream didn’t ask for public dollars. But in the run-up to the May 17 vote on final zoning approvals, rival malls paid for television ads and robo-calls pressuring commissioners to approve a ban on public money.
“It’s a great job creator,” Diaz said of American Dream in a recent interview. “”But the people’s money cannot be used.”
The commission ultimately approved a watered-down restriction — one that future commissioners could waive with the same majority vote needed to approve a subsidy.
That seemed to placate American Dream on the political front. The family behind Triple Five, the Ghermezians, have become top donors to county incumbents since launching the project in 2014. The donations continued to roll in for Diaz after the vote. His campaign and an affiliated political committee, We the People, have received more than $30,000 from American Dream since the May vote to approve the project with the subsidy ban.
This week, an American Dream lobbyist issued a flattering statement about Diaz and emphasized the company wanted him reelected.
“It was through Commissioner Diaz’s leadership that American Dream Miami and its 25,000 new permanent jobs are close to becoming a reality for our community,” said Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, an attorney and former state senator. “That’s why we raised over $60,000 for his campaign and will continue to vigorously help him in his reelection efforts.”
But this summer also saw campaign dollars and efforts working against Diaz that tie back to the push to approve the American Dream project:
▪ Diner, a solo practitioner with a Weston address on his website, was one of the most persistent public supporters of the American Dream project before Diaz and other commissioners.
“I was determined to be here today,” a hoarse Diner told the County Commission on May 17, saying he had left his “sick bed” to attend the final vote for American Dream’s hard-fought zoning approval. He said he hadn’t missed a single public meeting about the proposed retail theme park since the approval process began in 2017, and strongly supported the venture. “It will be a world attraction, just as Disney World is.”
Weeks later, Stefano said she received the surprise voice mail from Diner. The June 14 message, obtained separately by the Miami Herald, does not name Diaz but Stefano said the lawyer confirmed that was the target for his anonymous client. Stefano, a District 12 resident, declined the offer, saying she supported Diaz. The charity manager is now running for the Medley City Council.
▪ A Diaz challenger, Rafael Pineyro, has received nearly $5,000 from a Broward family with a member who was a public supporter of the American Dream project.
Meryl Fixler Berdugo appeared with a toddler in her arms at the first County Commission meeting on the American Dream application in January 2017, telling the board that Triple Five’s plans for a retail theme park would give parents and grandparents a welcome alternative. “I’m tired of going to your malls and sitting in a little pit area to play,” she said to laughter from the audience, “and have nothing to do.” .
Berdugo, a Parkland real estate agent, has not given to Pineyro’s campaign. Her brother, Marc Fixler, gave $1,000 to him. Their sister and brother-in-law, also of Parkland, gave $2,000. Another $1,800 came from Fixlers who share the Parkland address that Berdugo gave when she spoke before the commission last year.
In 2012, Marc Fixler and Berdugo formed a charity, AZ Yashir, with a Jacqueline Ghermezian that was dedicated to supporting hospitalized people. Fixler could not be reached for comment.
Berdugo, who did not respond to interview requests, is already a donor to the campaign for Gus Barreiro, a commission candidate who is receiving extensive financial support from the Ghermezian family. The former state representative is challenging Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava in District 8.
Levine Cava was the only commissioner to vote against approving American Dream’s zoning in May, and Triple Five executives have given more than $100,000 to Barreiro’s campaign and political committee. Berdugo gave $1,000 to Barreiro in July.
She’s no stranger to Miami-Dade politics. In September 2016, Berdugo gave $10,000 to a political committee supporting the reelection of Mayor Carlos Gimenez, an early champion of American Dream. The same day Berdugo gave $10,000 to Gimenez’s Miami-Dade Residents First, Triple Five CEO Syd Ghermezian gave the organization the same amount.
▪ A business partner to a member of the Ghermezian family donated $2,000 to Pineyro. Nathan Yadgar, an Aventura business consultant, gave the maximum $1,000 and a company he owns, NNY Development Group, gave another $1,000.
Yadgar is also a partner in Say Holdings, a company formed in 2016 to purchase a house on Northeast 121st Street in North Miami for $425,000. The company sold it last year for $700,000. One of Yadgar’s two partners in Say Holdings in Michael Abadi, a Ghermezian son-in-law who also lives in Aventura. The third partner in the Say Holdings, Murray Sager, shares a Wellington address with another Pineyro donor, Jason Sager, who gave $2,000 personally and through a business he owns.
The Sagers could not be reached for comment. Yadgar, a District 4 voter who appears to be a first-time donor in a county race, said Wednesday his support of Pineyro had nothing to do with Abadi. “I just saw what he’s about,” Yadgar said of Pineyro. “I think it’s time for a change from Pepe Diaz.”
Barreiro identified Abadi as his main contact with Triple Five on campaign issues as he tries to unseat Levine Cava. Abadi, who gave $5,000 to Diaz’s We the People in late 2017, did not respond to interview requests.
Abadi and his wife, the former Shayna Ghermezian, both appeared before the County Commission during American Dream hearings.
In May, Shayna Abadi stood briefly with her father, Eskandar Ghermezian, a Triple Five partner and the company’s top Miami-Dade negotiator, when he introduced some family members to the board. Michael Abadi addressed commissioners during public comments on Jan. 25, 2017, without mentioning his family ties. He urged commissioners not to dismiss the idea of public subsidies for Triple Five. “I think it should be an issue that’s discussed among the people, the community, to see if it’s an investment that might be beneficial,” Abadi said.
Pineyro, who used to be a top aide in the Doral mayor’s office, said he has not met with American Dream representatives. But he said he did seek the developer’s support since he values the American Dream project. “I reached out for the opportunity for support,” he said. “I didn’t hear back.”
He gave up a City Commission race In Doral to challenge Diaz. The other District 12 candidate is Patricio Moreno, a former state House candidate who was recruited by the Miami-Dade Democratic Party to run against Diaz, a Republican, in the nonpartisan race. Pineyro is an independent.
Moreno had raised less than $2,000 for his campaign in the latest report. Diaz, meanwhile, has raised more than $400,000 in his campaign alone, with another $300,000 to spend from his committee.
While Pineyro can’t hope to outspend the incumbent, he can claim a better fundraising record than any challenger.
Of the 10 candidates challenging five commissioners up for reelection on Aug. 28, Pineyro has raised the most campaign cash: roughly $77,000.
“I’m reaching out to people,” Pineyro said of his fundraising success. “And I’ve asked people to reach out to their friends and family.”
Pineyro recently pulled off a coup for a challenger by securing the endorsement of a sitting county commissioner: Xavier Suarez of District 7. On American Dream, Pineyro said he wants Miami-Dade to extract more benefits from the project. “We still have more to ask of them,” he said. Pineyro said he’s also not ready to support a ban on local dollars for American Dream. “A blanket ban? No,” he said. “We have to look at each [request] independently and discuss it.”Thursday morning, Pineyro sent an updated statement backing away from a willingness to at least consider the possibility of government support. “As your next commissioner,” he wrote, “I’ll not approve the use of public funds for this, or any private project.”
By Douglas Hanks
Daniella Levine Cava was the only Miami-Dade commissioner to vote against the American Dream Miami mega-mall and theme park in May, and now the Canadian-based developer is the top donor to one of her opponent’s campaign.
Gus Barreiro, a former state representative challenging the South Dade commissioner for Miami-Dade’s District 8 commission seat, has received nearly $7,500 in campaign contributions from donors tied to American Dream developer Triple Five, including a $1,000 check from CEO Syd Ghermezian. The known donations tied to Triple Five account for about 60 percent of Barreiro’s nearly $12,000 in campaign donations.
Another $100,000 went to a state political committee Barreiro said is supporting him, Citizens Alliance for Florida’s Economy. Solomon Saraway, who is related to the Ghermezian family through marriage and was identified as a Triple Five executive in a 2009 campaign donation in Minnesota, gave $25,000 to the committee on July 12. Three firms connected to him each gave $25,000 to the committee on the same day as well.
Barreiro said he met with Triple Five to talk about financial support before he joined the commission race in June, about four weeks after the County Commission voted 9-1 to give final approval to the $4 billion retail theme park in Northwest Miami-Dade. He talked about his support of the project, and he said the Ghermezians agreed to support his campaign.
“I met with the family,” Barreiro said of the Ghermezians, whose family-owned company is best known as the developer of Minnesota’s Mall of America. “I’m happy to receive their support.”
The two are running for the nonpartisan District 8 primary on Aug. 28. A third candidate, Johnathan Burke, has raised about $2,000 for his campaign.
Barreiro said he was “taken aback” to hear Levine Cava object to the fact that American Dream planned to create mostly low-wage jobs, a figure based on the company’s economic-development forecast showing 60 percent of the 14,000 jobs would pay less than $25,000 a year.
“Everybody wants high-paying jobs,” Barreiro said. “But you have to start somewhere.”
Levine Cava, running for a second four-year term on the 13-member commission before term limits kick in, has a significant financial advantage over Barreiro, whose brother, Bruno, resigned his District 5 commission seat earlier this year to run for Congress.
Her campaign alone has raised nearly $500,000, not counting money directed to an allied political committee, Changing Florida’s Future, which has nearly $400,000 in the bank. Donors to Levine Cava include top developers and companies with county contracts, including Landmark and Transportation America.
Ghermezian representatives did not respond to requests for comment, including one Barreiro said he delivered to his contact with the family.
The mall factor may be helping Barreiro raise other dollars. Meryl Fixler Berdugo, a Broward real estate agent, spoke to the Miami-Dade commission on January in favor of the project, which sits just south of the county line. She also gave $1,000 to Barreiro’s campaign. After a brief phone conversation Wednesday, Berdugo was not available for an interview about the donation.
Levine Cava, who also raised environmental concerns about the 175-acre project at the edge of Miami-Dade’s urban development zone, said she had a pleasant conversation after the vote with a representative of a foundation tied to Triple Five. “I was really surprised,” by the Barreiro donations, she said.
By Douglas Hanks
Today, May 17, 2018, the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners (BCC) considered and voted on the American Dream Miami mega-mall, which, if and once it is completed, will be the largest retail center in North America. While the South Florida Taxpayers Alliance (SFTA), a coalition of well-established malls that support 17,000 Miami-Dade County jobs and paid $48 million in property taxes in 2017 alone, welcomes this competition, our organization exists to ensure that this private project is not funded or subsidized by taxpayer dollars. Thankfully, the BCC protected the interests of all Miami-Dade County residents and taxpayers by passing a resolution 11-1 to guarantee that Miami-Dade County does not pay for any part of the construction of this project.
On behalf of all Miami-Dade County taxpayers, the SFTA would like to pay special thanks to Commissioner José “Pepe” Díaz for introducing and championing this resolution, which will protect residents’ pockets and the County’s coffers. We would also like to thank Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, who seconded the motion, and Commissioners Bovo (Chairman), Edmonson (Vice Chairwoman), Heyman, Levine Cava, Martínez, Monestime, Moss, Souto and Suárez for supporting this critical piece of legislation.
This vote represents a big victory for all Miami-Dade County taxpayers and residents, as public funds should not be used to build this project. Finally, we’d like to thank Mayor Carlos Giménez for his continued stance on this issue and unwavering support for protecting taxpayer dollars. Again, thank you, Mayor and Commissioners, for defending the interests of your constituents and serving our whole community!
For more information, contact Alex Heckler at (954) 937-8545.
— South Florida Taxpayers Alliance
The American Dream — the megamall, not the national ethos, though one could argue the two are somewhat related — took another step toward reality when the Miami-Dade Planning Advisory Board gave the 6 million square foot project a thumbs up.
We asked readers what they thought of the massive mall, to be built just south of Miramarover the Miami-Dade County line. We did get a few folks who wrote approvingly of the mall’s 14,000 promised jobs — “Build it, put more people to work!!!” emailed Bill Jones — but most readers were not fans.
Along with the promised jobs, we also pointed out some of the criticisms attached to the American Dream — worries of environmental degradation and traffic jams. But for many readers, it was a lack of faith in the project’s success that led to them speaking out against it.
And even the proposed 14,000 jobs drew worry from some.
“I’m very concerned about the economic impact on the current businesses in our area,” said Ryann Greenberg of Pembroke Pines. “Obviously, I want everybody to have a job, but we are at a pivotal point in our state. We’re bringing so many people down to South Florida for jobs that it’s almost creating unsafe conditions with the traffic and everything — look at the hurricane evacuations we had to do back in September. It took 24 hours to get out of the cone. … We need to start thinking about growth strategically, and I don’t think they have a sufficient traffic plan.”
Others cited environmental concerns — the mall would take up some 174 acres of wetlands next to the Everglades — and even proposed more environmentally friendly tourism draws.
“The last thing we need is another mall, especially there,” emailed Tye Culver. “Let's draw tourists by opening up the beaches, cleaning up the waterways and enhancing Florida's natural beauty. That's something we can all benefit from, including nature. Lead the way Miami-Dade! Do something you can really be proud of for a change.”
“It’s like jobs are sacrosanct. What about the people who live here? The surrounding communities? The traffic?” emailed Cornelia McNamara. “Way too much development at too high a cost to the environment. Time to limit growth in my opinion. The area is losing all semblance of natural beauty and for what?”
One Twitter user put the ball back in our court — or at least that of the opinion section of the paper.
It’s probably worth pointing out here that the editorial boards of the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post, along with WLRN, have all joined forces to produce a climate series, The Invading Sea. Very much worth checking out — it’s not often the three competing papers in South Florida cooperate like this, which gives you some sense of the urgency of the mission.
By Dan Sweeney
You want to know how bad — how really, really bad — traffic is in the Northwest Miami-Dade and South Broward communities surrounding what will be the largest mall in America?
So bad, for example, that commuting parents are dropping off kids on the Northwest 103rd Street exit ramp off the Palmetto Expressway because they can’t drive into the parking lot of a Hialeah Gardens charter school, battle traffic again to get back on the highway and get to work at a decent time.
Amid rush-hour drivers, kids open doors, get out and walk around cars waiting for the light to change. As if a major expressway ramp were an official drop-off point. When WSVN Channel 7 came to film “Dangerous Drop Off” a few days ago, FHP showed up, started pulling people over, and issued warnings to no avail. The troopers couldn’t keep up with the number of parents arriving and kids getting out and darting across lanes, putting their lives at risk.
To this scenario, the unconscionable leaders of Miami-Dade County government — so many of them responsible for the kind of rampant overdevelopment that has brought us to this point — are adding more unimaginable gridlock.
They sell it as "‘American Dream Miami," a $4 billion theme park and mega mall. But it will make your already bad commute hell on earth.
And the administration of Carlos Gimenez — who secretly helped pull together the land deal that made this happen and rammed it down residents’ throats in cahoots with Commission Chairman Esteban Bovo, who represents the areas most affected — have done absolutely nothing to mitigate the impact.
Their bright idea of a traffic solution: Have Canadian developer and mall builder Triple Five build a bus depot and buy a handful of new county buses to shuttle visitors and tourists.
The mall/theme park is estimated to generate 100,000 vehicle trips per day. And that’s all they got from the developer? Buses?
How this ill-conceived project — and another oversized development by the Graham Companies right next door — have sailed through the county approval process explains how we got to be in the traffic pickle that we’re in these days.
An ambitious developer — this one a Canadian-Iraqi who built Minnesota’s Mall of America out in the boonies — buys himself the perfect politically connected lobbyist, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Republican from Coral Gables who served in the Florida Senate from 2010-16, leaving not a chance for residents and commuters to stop the project or reshape it into something more manageable.
All the county departments fall in line with the go-edict from above, and despite the environmental impact on sensitive lands so close to the Everglades and the conservative traffic studies that nevertheless generate high numbers, what you get are green-light votes from advisory boards appointed by the commissioners.
To add to the disgrace, Assistant County Attorney Dennis Kerbel says it’s not even legal to impose an agreement on Triple Five that they will not use government subsidies. Yes, our tax dollars are making others rich, that's what that means. It’s so disgraceful that the man who represents Miami Lakes and Palm Springs North, Commissioner Bovo, wants to open up two local town streets to all the traffic the mega mall will generate.
He, of course, lives safely ensconced in Hialeah, and only pays lip service to traffic woes from his leadership post on the dais.
And when the few brave souls who remain community activists in this town show up at meetings and raise all these issues and get too eloquent, the lobbyist and the developers bring in people to opine that this bad deal is just what our children need. It’s like Disney World come home to Momma so she doesn’t have to drive or train it to “expensive” Orlando.
A final vote by the county commission is scheduled for May 17.
It’s not over till it's over, environmentalist Jonathan Ullman tells me, evoking Everglades defender Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who famously said: "Be a nuisance when it counts. Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action. Be depressed, discouraged, and disappointed at failure and the disheartening effects of ignorance, greed, corruption and bad politics — but never give up."
And when all else fails, I say, remember the names of those who brought you this mega mess so that you don’t keep making the same mistake of voting for all of these county commissioners again, and certainly not for Bovo when he runs for mayor in 2020.
Unless, of course, you’re up for riding American Dream’s charity buses to drop off your kids at school.
By Fabiola Santiago
Including a tower in plans for America’s largest mall, to be built right here in South Florida, doesn’t make enough of an architectural statement.
Instead, the entire mega mall proposed near the edge of the Everglades should be built in the shape of a giant, extended middle finger.
That’s the real message this enormous retail folly sends. It’s a monument to the notion that we will build whatever we want, wherever we want, no matter the consequences.
It was one thing to drain half of the Everglades through the decades to make way for farming and South Florida’s out-of-control development. At least we got food and places to live as a tradeoff for wrecking the River of Grass.
But now we are going to take land that used to be part of the Everglades to build a mall complex big enough for an indoor ski slope. And a waterpark. And a submarine ride.
At a time when online shopping is shuttering other malls across the country, American Dream Miami developers say more people will flock to their mall each year than Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Seems like economic Fantasy Land.
And what if they do? Mall backers expect 30 million visitors a year. How will South Florida’s already-clogged roads handle this influx of snow-skiing shoppers?
Broward officials have raised traffic concerns, but that didn’t stop Miami-Dade’s planning advisory board from giving its thumbs-up to the project this week. The Miami-Dade County Commission could give its blessing on May 17.
It’s hard for Broward to shake its finger at its neighbors to the south for allowing over-the-top building plans on the edge of the Everglades.
A drive along the Sawgrass Expressway, with the Everglades on one side and sprawling neighborhoods on the other, takes you past a hockey arena as well as the Sawgrass Mills mall.
American Dream Miami is just a bigger, badder incarnation of the middle finger South Florida development has been shooting at the Everglades for decades.
Developers will keep angling to use every bit of land left east of what remains of the Everglades, even as they keep trying to push that dividing line farther into the struggling swamp. We have to snow ski somewhere.
By Andy Reid