The Real Deal: Construction of American Dream Miami may not begin for another eight years

If opponents succeed in killing the project, assemblage would be developed into industrial parks

Speaking to a Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce crowd, an American Dream Miami consultant said construction on the massive theme-park-oriented mall may not begin until 2025, three years after all roads and expressway interchanges into the development have been completed.

In the meantime, fostering more development around public transit hubs is the key ingredient in creating the kind of critical mass that will transform Miami into a true urban center, according to a panel of downtown and Brickell developers.

“Bringing in the [Brightline] commuter train into downtown is going to be transformative for the city,” said Greg West, president and chief development officer at ZOM. “It not only elevates Miami, but all of South Florida on the global stage. It should bring more population.”

West joined Swire President Kieran Bowers and Henry Pino, managing member Strategic Properties Group and Alta Developers, in a discussion about builders capitalizing on Miami’s continuing evolution. It was the second of two panels during the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce 2017 Real Estate Summit held at Jungle Island on Friday.

Pino said his companies have plans to develop two mixed-use sites near Miami-Dade Metrorail stations south of Miami. “We are trying to expand our projects to be closer to the train stations,” he said. “We just closed on a property that will be 900 feet from the Dadeland South Station,” Pino said. “We have another one in South Miami that is across from city hall and within walking distance to another Metrorail station.”

Earlier this week, Alta paid $11 million for a 1.45-acre industrial site at 9600 South Dixie Highway to complete an assemblage that also includes a 6,250-square-foot site with a retail building at 9514 South Dixie Highway and a 3,125-square-foot site with an office building at 9516 South Dixie Highway. Alta plans to seek county approval to redevelop the sites into a mixed-use project that includes 420 apartments, roughly 20,000 square feet of ground-floor retail, a pool, a fountain and a fitness center.

Bowers said Brickell is a good example of how residential development close to a Metrorail station creates critical mass and encourages people to use public transit. “My experience with Metrorail is that it is fine once you get on it,” Bowers said. “But getting [to the stations] is the real problem.”

During the earlier panel, three developers building massive projects in the northwest area of Miami-Dade discussed the challenges they face breaking ground, noting it can take years to cut through the regulatory red tape. The panelists were Jose Gonzalez, vice president of corporate development for Florida East Coast Industries, Stuart Wyllie, CEO of the Graham Companies, and Edgar Jones, president of Edgar Jones & Co., which is part of the development team building American Dream Miami.

Gonzalez talked about the hoops Florida East Coast jumped through simply to prepare a former landfill for development into an industrial park. “We bought the land in 2004,” he said. “We literally just broke ground last year. And it will take 10 years to build out that park.”

Jones said that construction of American Dream cannot begin until the state and county finish building all the roads and expressway interchanges that provide access to the gargantuan entertainment and shopping destination. “That will be completed in 2022,” Jones said. “Construction [of the mall] won’t start until three years after that.”

Jones also groused about amount of time the developers have been required to spend on traffic studies to convince county officials that American Dream will create more gridlock in an area already plagued by traffic congestion. The development team has widened the scope of the areas that may be impacted by more traffic so much that “we now know the traffic impact in Santa Monica, California,” Jones said in jest.

He also claimed that if American Dream opponents succeed in killing the project, the massive assemblage of land would be developed into industrial parks. “You will have trucks on the road at significant levels,” Jones said. “Those trucks will be out during rush hour.”

By Francisco Alvarado

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Sun Sentinel: American Dream Miami — poster child for growth at any cost

The numbers alone tax the imagination: 3.5 million square feet of retail, 1.5 million square feet of entertainment venues, 70,000 auto trips a day, 30 million visitors a year, 14,000 employees, a 2,000-room hotel — and all of it less than two miles south of the Broward line.

Miami-Dade policymakers seem to love American Dream Miami, the amusement park-shopping village destined to become the nation's biggest mall and attract more annual visitors than Walt Disney World.

It doesn't matter what their neighbors to the north think. Broward residents are free to protest, of course, and elected officials have expressed concerns about transit, traffic, schools, highway exit ramps, water and other impacts sure to come from the monster mall and adjacent 340- acre housing and office complex.

But Broward has no say in the decision. It is Miami-Dade that gets to decide. And as the Sun Sentinel's Brittany Wallman reports, Miami-Dade County Commission Chairman Esteban Bovo Jr. bristles at the questions coming from the "Broward guys." He suggests they care only about protecting Sawgrass Mills, Broward's top tourist and shopping attraction.

Without a doubt, American Dream will compete with Sawgrass for international tourists sure to be dazzled by the new shopping experience, plus the planned indoor ski slope, professional-sized ice skating rink, water park, theme park, aquarium and so much more. This 200-acre "retail-tainment" park, which is projected to cost $4 billion, is expected to become Miami-Dade's largest employer.

For muting Broward's voice in addressing the downside of this behemoth — and the voice of any community facing a major development proposed next door — point the finger squarely at Gov. Rick Scott.

Shortly after taking office seven years ago, Scott killed the state agency that regulated the development of projects the size of theme parks or new towns.

The governor, you see, views regulations as an impediment to economic development and jobs, jobs, jobs.

So today, consider American Dream Miami the poster child for Scott's bet against good growth management and regional cooperation.

This bet, however, could prove dangerous for the governor, who is expected to run for the U.S. Senate against Bill Nelson next year. For just about every poll shows Floridians hate over-development and the traffic nightmares it brings.

That's why, back in 1972, when Florida's population was 7.5 million, the state Legislature passed a number of growth-control measures, among them one that paid special attention to mega projects that crossed jurisdictional lines, called Developments of Regional Impact, or DRI.

DRIs mandated an exhaustive review of a project's impacts on regional roads, water supplies, schools and the environment. But the process got chipped away one exemption at a time. Miami-Dade and Broward were first to be excluded in 2009. Then in 2011, Scott eliminated the state's growth management agency altogether. Instead, he gave limited oversight to the Office of Economic Opportunity. In other words, the governor moved growth from the brake pedal to the accelerator.

Standing in line for its share of economic opportunity is Triple Five, developer of the Mall of America in Minneapolis. The company is well on its way to starting work on the American Dream Miami on just under 200 acres in northwest Miami-Dade.

Though true that the South Florida Regional Planning Council, which includes Broward members, has some oversight, it is not as sweeping as what the defunct DRI process required.

By the way, this project isn't limited to a theme-park mall, either. Adjoining the project is an unrelated — but almost as massive — residential and office project proposed by the Graham Co., developer of Miami Lakes. It promises to build out by 2040.

Traffic congestion is the immediate concern of critics, but little has been said about the demands on water, burdens on sewer systems, impacts on police and fire departments, traffic-generated air pollution, garbage collection and disposal, and so on.

Triple Five also says the great majority of workers will be paid $25,000 a year or less, so they likely will not be able to afford to live in its new housing projects.

The DRI process paid attention to these kinds of issues.

When the Miami-Dade County Commission granted preliminary approval to the mega-mall, just one commissioner voted no, Daniella Levin Cava.

"I am not opposed to this project," she said. "I see the economic benefit. The question is, at what cost?"

That IS the question. At what cost? And who should pay it? And most important, who should get to vote on it?

Once there was a system to help answer those questions.

For killing good growth management, blame Gov. Rick Scott.

By Sun Sentinel Editorial Board

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Sun Sentinel: State raises traffic concerns over American Dream mega-mall

Concerned about bumper-to-bumper traffic, state officials have raised a red flag on American Dream Miami, one of the largest developments proposed in South Florida’s history.

But the concerns won't sink plans for America’s biggest indoor amusement park-mall. The state didn’t challenge the proposal, but said plans for traffic and mass transit aren’t sufficient yet.

As the project glides toward final approvals, improvements aimed at lessening the expected traffic gridlock are coming into sharper focus.

Florida officials raised their worries in a recent series of letters to Miami-Dade County.The state Department of Transportation made suggestions, warning that if the comments aren’t addressed, they might challenge the project.

“The department is concerned about access and connectivity’’ to the highway system, and is “concerned about protecting state and federal investments recently made in the I-75 corridor,’’ a Florida Department of Transportation administrator said in a letter to Miami-Dade County on March 15.

Six “important state and regionally significant roadways’’ will be “impacted adversely’’ by the projects, the state said in one of the letters, asking Miami-Dade County to produce plans to resolve it.

The roadways:

  • Homestead Extension of the Florida Turnpike.
  • The Florida Turnpike from Interstate 595 in Broward County south to North 203rd Street in Miami-Dade.
  • Miami Gardens Drive from Interstate 75 to Northwest 77th Avenue.
  • Palmetto Expressway from Interstate 75 to Okeechobee Road.
  • Pines Boulevard in Broward County from Interstate 75 to Southwest 172 Avenue.
  • Okeechobee Road from Northwest 154 Street to the Turnpike.

The required state review of American Dream Miami mega-mall and the adjacent Graham Companies office-residential campus is now largely complete. Despite unease from Broward officials and some residents, the dual projects are hastening toward a possible final series of votes at the Miami-Dade County Commission in late summer or early fall.

The state, though critical when it comes to traffic, stopped short of raising objections that could jeopardize either development. A letter March 17 from the state Office of Economic Opportunity said none of its concerns rises to the level of a “challenge.’’ The letter kicks off a 180-day window in which a final hearing must be held by the county, said Miami-Dade assistant planning Director Jerry Bell. After the vote, a state agency could still challenge the approval.

“It’s what you’d expect for a development of this size,’’ Bell said of the state’s comments.

The developments in an unincorporated triangle of northwest Miami-Dade, less than 2 miles south of the Broward County line, already have won key approvals, first at the Miami-Dade County Commission and then at the South Florida Regional Planning Council, which includes Broward representatives.

The state originally owned a portion of the mega-mall acreage. The governor and Cabinet in April 2015 agreed to sell it to Miami-Dade County, which then sold it to Triple Five, American Dream Miami developer.

In response to the state’s concerns, the development team outlined on March 28 the latest traffic-smoothing plans. New interchanges or widened roads are planned all around the site, from Northwest 170th Street to the north, and between Interstate 75 on the east and the Homestead Extension of the Turnpike on the west. Improvements also are planned on two north-south avenues that intersect the property: Northwest 97th and 102nd.

For mass transit riders, shuttles will ferry passengers to Metro-Rail stations in Miami-Dade and to two Broward County park-and-ride lots in Miramar: one at the Miramar Town Center and the other at Miramar Regional Park, the latest plans show.

Former state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, representative for Triple Five, did not return two phone calls and two emails for comment.

The proposed American Dream Miami mall would be a place where tourists and locals alike could ride in a submarine, watch a live performance, ski on an indoor slope, buy a swimsuit, play at a water park, eat a fine meal and then buy designer pajamas before staying in one of the hotels. It would be built immediately, in one phase.

The adjacent Graham property to the south would be a community of 2,000 multifamily homes, a 3 million-square-foot office park and 1 million square feet of stores and restaurants, built out by 2040. Attorney Joe Goldstein, representing the Graham Cos., said the team is “working diligently” to address local, regional and state input.

“The Graham Cos.’ application is a model of great planning,’’ he said in an email, “and we are confident that we can adequately address any questions as the process moves forward.”

Jim Angulo, 47, said he drives the crowded highways around the site continually, because he lives directly across I-75 from it. He said he’s worried by “the speed of the approvals.”

A closed, currently unused overpass connects his neighborhood to the development site. If it opens, his own “American Dream” will be threatened, he said.

“They are shoving this project right down everyone's throat,’’ he said. “The negative impact it will have on Broward is mind-blowing.”

Broward Commissioner Nan Rich said the solutions she’s seen are inadequate. She said the mega-mall stands to hurt Broward, competing with its retail shops and malls and contributing to an affordable housing crisis.

The monster mall, at 6.2 million square feet plus a 2,000-room hotel, would dwarf other malls in South Florida, including two of America’s largest: the 2.7 million square foot Aventura Mall in northern Miami-Dade County and the 2.4 million square foot Sawgrass Mills Mall in Sunrise, hugging the Everglades.

South Florida Taxpayers Alliance, a group representing rival malls, including Sawgrass Mills, opposes any public subsidy that would aid the new mall. To date, no subsidy has been requested.

The new mega-mall and adjacent office park-residential community are expected to bring tens of thousands of cars to an acreage currently vacant and unserved by any bus or rail system. Southwest Broward will feel the change on its roadways, transportation planners predict, as workers for the development head to and from the mega-mall and theme park, and tourists and locals travel through Miramar to get to American Dream.

“It’s already a total traffic mess, total traffic congestion at many times of the day,’’ said Rich, a Weston resident and former state senator. “I don’t see how this accommodates the impact it’s going to have on Broward.’’

by Brittany Wallman

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Miami Herald: Two mega-malls, one developer. Do problems in New Jersey suggest troubles ahead for Miami?

As the developer behind the American Dream Miami mega-mall promises to launch a massive retail theme park in Northwest Miami-Dade, the company is making a different promise in New Jersey: that the American Dream Meadowlands will, in fact, get done.

Developer Triple Five has been fending off critical news coverage in New Jersey for its long-delayed effort to build the original American Dream retail theme park there, where reporters have described the construction site as seemingly idle. “Work on Meadowlands mall has stalled and developer won’t answer questions,” read the March 23 headline in The Record, the paper covering the area.

The bond sale allowing Triple Five to borrow about $1.2 billion needed to finish the $5 billion complex missed a fall deadline last year, and local officials are left to fend off questions about why the construction site seems so quiet.

“People there see cranes not moving,” East Rutherford Mayor James Cassella told the Miami Herald last week. “They see when people aren’t working there. So they ask questions.”

Triple Five’s New Jersey representative did not respond to requests for comments, but a Miami lobbyist said the project remains actively moving toward completion. “There are 250 people working on the building right now as we speak,” said Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a land-use lawyer and former state senator in Florida representing Triple Five in Miami-Dade.

Diaz de la Portilla said the leader of the family-owned firm, Eskandar Ghermezian, is keeping cash flowing while American Dream Meadowlands awaits the bond sale designed to pay for the project. “Eskandar is financing it out of his own pocket,” he said. “Eskandar is totally unconcerned. The project will get done.”

The slow pace in New Jersey is magnified by the long-running saga of the American Dream site there. Home to MetLife Stadium, where the New York Giants and New York Jets play, the state-owned complex has been shopping for a successful retail developer for more than a decade.

Triple Five took over the project in 2010, after two previous developers failed to gain traction on a project once known as Xanadu. Triple Five, owner of the Mall of America in Minnesota, was hailed as a savior and won agreements from New Jersey to let it divert some sales and property taxes to pay bond holders.

While Triple Five won government backing for the loans, the developer is faced with the task of finding investors willing to buy the bonds on Wall Street. “Any day now, Triple Five may publish its bond prospectus, which will run hundreds of pages long and will make the company’s argument for why investors should believe in American Dream,” the Record wrote in September 2015.

The bond documents have not been released. When a group opposing the New Jersey project sued to block the bond issuance last year, Triple Five said in court filings that delaying the bond offering past November could risk “default and/or foreclosure and the likely failure altogether of American Dream.” The suit was dismissed, and November came and went without a bond sale.

Triple Five doesn’t face the same kind of timetable in Miami-Dade, where it’s still awaiting approval to proceed with zoning the site for the six-million-square-foot complex. The developer didn’t get an offer for public financing in Miami-Dade, where it has pledged to build its 200-acre theme park without government subsidies.

A coalition of large malls in the Miami area fighting the project are pressing elected leaders to impose restrictions on funding, including a ban on Triple Five creating a special district that could let it use property-tax revenue linked to the project to pay construction debt. Triple Five has not requested that kind of a district.

The group backed by the owners of Sawgrass Mills, Bayside Marketplace and the Dolphin Mall is pointing to the New Jersey project as a warning that Miami-Dade shouldn’t trust Triple Five.

“Triple Five’s delayed mega mall project in New Jersey presents a cautionary tale for Miami-Dade,” the group, South Florida Taxpayers Alliance, said in a statement. “Despite receiving over a billion dollars in public subsidies, construction has stalled, job and economic development promises remain unmet and what started like a dream has turned into a true nightmare for that community.”

The focus on New Jersey highlights the stakes for Triple Five, which opened the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, in 1992. American Dream Meadowlands is set to be its second U.S. shopping theme park. When the company selected Miami for a third project in 2015, a $3 billion complex large enough to hold an indoor ski slope and submarine rides, Meadowlands was the model. Renderings of the proposed Miami project transplanted drawings from the New Jersey project into Miami materials, including the skyline visible from the imagined indoor amusement park featured in both projects.

Mayor Cassella said Triple Five’s pursuit of a twin project in Miami-Dade has sparked some head scratching in East Rutherford, which is expecting its American Dream to open in the fall of 2018.

“I find it interesting that this one hasn’t even opened yet, and they’re starting on Miami,” Cassella said. “Maybe we can start wagers on which one is going to open first.”

by Douglas Hanks

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Sun Sentinel: American Dream, 'mother of all projects,' to bring thousands to South Florida

Within a few years, South Florida could be home to the largest indoor amusement park-mall in the country, bringing traffic, jobs and more people each year than Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.

The planned American Dream Miami indoor theme park, resort and mall and a proposed housing-office park next to it are expected to add tens of thousands more cars to the roads, some of which already are strained, planning documents say.

More than 70,000 car trips per day would come and go from the mega-mall, with more than 30 million visitors per year, estimates show. Magic Kingdom at Disney World, the world’s busiest amusement park, drew 20.4 million visitors in 2015, the most recent year available, the Orlando Sentinel reported in May.

The complex is proposed in an unincorporated wedge of northwest Miami-Dade County, immediately north of the city of Hialeah, and just south of the city of Miramar in Broward County.

The tourist complex could house an indoor ski slope, water park, movie complex and hotels. The same group, developer Triple Five, is building an American Dream theme park-mall in New Jersey, and owns the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., and the West Edmonton Mall in Canada.

The proposal has won initial support in Miami-Dade County, where its fate ultimately rests. But analysis of issues like traffic and how it will be dealt with are still under way. Miami-Dade County Commission Chairman Esteban Bovo Jr. cautioned that gridlock is “coming to roost’’ in South Florida “in a way that we don’t want to happen."

Two large developments are making their way to Miami-Dade County, just miles from Broward county. American Dream Miami amusment park, mall and resort is slated to be the largest of its kind in the country. The Graham Project will include 2,000 apartments and a 3 million-square-foot business park. (SOURCE: South Florida Regional Planning Council, maps4news) “One of the things that jumps out at me today is that despite the potential of being able to produce jobs, the traffic situation for many of our residents has gotten to the point that they’re willing to forego the investment and the potential for job creation,’’ Bovo said. “And that, my colleagues, should be screaming at us more and more, the need to do something about transportation."

Hialeah Gardens Mayor Yioset De La Cruz took a different approach.

“Traffic is an issue, there’s no doubt. It’s always an issue,’’ he said. “Traffic is an issue in Orlando, with the Disney parks. But I guarantee you, Orlando is better off today with those parks than they were before. Traffic is an issue in Sunrise, with Sawgrass Mills mall. But I guarantee you, they want to keep that mall because of the benefits that it brings to their city."

The main routes to the proposed mega-development, Interstate 75 and Florida’s Turnpike, “run through our city,’’ Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam said at the Miami-Dade meeting, where the project won a key approval. Workers for the super-mall may very well live in Miramar, a few miles away. He said the proper “transportation system’’ is critical.

Vacant land in the region is scarce, but the site between the Florida Turnpike’s Homestead extension and Interstate 75, a few miles south of the Broward County line, offers a blank slate of 514 acres.

“This is one of the mother of all projects going on right now that you’re probably not going to see again in Broward and Miami-Dade counties,’’ Mark Woerner, Miami-Dade’s planning chief, said.

Here’s what’s proposed:

  • AMERICAN DREAM MIAMI: The developer proposes 6.2 million square feet of development, including 3.5 million square feet of retail, 1.5 million square feet of entertainment, 1.2 million square feet of common area and 2,000 hotel rooms. The 175-acre, $4 billion project would be built in one phase, as soon as possible. The developer says it could be complete by 2020. It is expected to attract 30,000 visitors a day and to add 70,308 car trips to and from the site a day. It would provide an estimated 14,500 jobs.
  • THE GRAHAM COMPANIES: Directly to the south of American Dream, developers from the Miami-Lakes-based Graham Cos. propose 3 million square feet of office space, 1 million square feet of commercial retail, and 2,000 apartments. The 339-acre, $1.1 billion project would be built over two decades, complete by 2040. It would provide 9,955 full-time jobs and add 10,310 car trips to and from by 2020. That is expected to triple to 61,217 by 2040, according to a March 2016 analysis.

Don Ghermezian, part of the family-owned Triple Five team, rejected the “mall’’ label. Ghermezian told Miami-Dade commissioners at a Jan. 25 hearing that he has nine kids, and they’re always glued to electronics. He said he envisions a complex where even the stores are entertainment centers for children, a place where they can put the iPhones down.

“I’ve heard the words mall a couple of times. We’re not a mall developer,’’ Ghermezian said. “To tell you the truth, I loathe malls. … The 3.5 million square feet of retail that’s in there, a great majority is what I call ‘retail-tainment.’ ”

His father, Eskandar Ghermezian, said worries about traffic are misguided, given the changes he sees coming.

“Twenty years from now - write it down, please — the traffic will be less than what we have today,’’ he said to Miami-Dade commissioners. “People are going to work from the house. They’re not going to the office. … All this traffic 20 years from now will be zero."

Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a former state senator who is a lawyer-lobbyist for American Dream Miami, said the two projects would generate tens of thousands of construction jobs and full-time permanent posts.

“This is about jobs,’’ he said. “This is about economic development."

Broward officials said they want to take a closer look at how the enormous development would affect mass transit and roadways.

Nonprofit envisions casino resort complex dubbed 'Downtown West' for Broward A special meeting of the South Florida Regional Planning Council will be held Friday to go over the concerns. The council will vote on whether to recommend what the developers are seeking: changes to the land use plan, which currently limit the land to industrial and business development and wouldn’t allow the super-mall that’s envisioned. The projects will be reviewed by the state, then will return for final votes in Miami-Dade County in April or May, officials predicted.

Concerned officials in Broward County have little say in how the American Dream Miami indoor theme park and mall is developed, nor will they receive property taxes from the project. Still, Jerry Bell, designated to replace the retiring Woerner as planning chief for Miami-Dade County, said the developers “will be required to address demonstrated traffic impacts, including impacts from the project in Broward County,’’ as part of the approval process.

De la Portilla said the developer produced a traffic study that’s 5,000 pages long. Potential improvements are still under review.


The special meeting will be held at 2 p.m. Friday, March 10, at the South Florida Regional Planning Council, 3440 Hollywood Boulevard, Suite 140. Public comment is allowed. View the project documents at Click on “CDMP,’’ then “Amendment cycles,’’ and select “May 2016.’’ The applications were numbers five and six.

by Brittany Wallman

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Sun Sentinel: Broward concerned American Dream project could be traffic nightmare

Broward commissioners don’t want to see American Dream Miami turn into a nightmare for county residents and commuters, but the commission has no vote on the Miami-Dade County project.

The massive $4 billion shopping mall, indoor theme park and hotel is planned for 174 acres between the Florida Turnpike’s Homestead extension and Interstate 75.

On Tuesday, Commissioner Nan Rich said she wouldn’t mind seeing the whole project go away — and traffic problems just might be the cause.

“I think the roads are one way where this could possibly be halted,” Rich said.

Developer Triple Five Worldwide’s project includes 3.5 million square feet of retail space, 1.5 million square feet of entertainment and up to 2,000 hotel rooms. Some of its features could include an indoor ski slope, a large theme park, a water park, plenty of restaurants, an aquarium and a professionally sized ice hockey rink.

In a related development on 340 acres south of the destination mall, Graham Properties is proposing to build up to 3 million square feet of business, 1 million square feet of commercial space and 2,000 rental apartments.

The project would require additional ramps to Interstate 75 and commissioners want to make sure the state doesn’t give priority to those ramps over ones the county has been seeking on I-75 and the Sawgrass Expressway to serve Sawgrass Mills, the BB&T Center and the $1.5 billion Metropica project planned for Sunrise.

Commissioner Beam Furr said the county needs to make sure its lobbyists put the county’s interests first and not the project’s when lobbying the state. Brian Ballard, for example, represents the county and International Atlantic LLC, one of the project developers. Other International Atlantic lobbyists registered for the state legislative session also lobby for the Broward property appraiser and the sheriff’s office, according to state records.

“I want to make sure for our lobbyists, there is not a conflict of interest,” Furr said. “That needs to be absolutely clear.”

The South Florida Regional Planning Council last week made the project’s approval contingent on making sure already crowded roadways aren’t overwhelmed. The council’s unanimous approval sent the project to the state for review.

In other action on Tuesday, Broward commissioners:

  • Agreed to purchase 6 million gallons a day of drinking water storage capacity for $27.6 million in a C-51 Reservoir being constructed on property owned by Palm Beach Aggregates LLC in Palm Beach County. Projected annual debt payments of $2.1 million could result in increased water fees of about $1.11 a month for a single-family homeowner using about 5,000 gallons of water a month.
  • Agreed the county would fight any effort to deny it federal funding that might result from President Donald Trump’s executive order regarding sanctuary cities. But they withheld action on a proposed resolution that said the county has never called itself a sanctuary jurisdiction, with Commissioner Nan Rich saying the resolution could be seen as “kowtowing” or “capitulating to the bullying” from Trump.
  • Delayed creating zoning rules about where medical marijuana dispensaries can be located in the county until May 9, after the state legislative session ends. Commissioners want to see what rules legislators come up with first.
  • Approved transferring $1.3 million to the Sheriff’s Office to support staffing of detention officers at the new Broward County Courthouse tower.
  • Approved Mayor Barbara Sharief’s participation in an Enterprise Florida export trade mission to Argentina on April 23-27, joining Gov. Rick Scott and others to promote local businesses. The county’s cost will be about $2,500.
  • Approved giving administrators up to 60 days to finalize contract negotiations for temporary leased space for the State Attorney’s Office. Commissioners agreed to leasing space for the office in December.

by Larry Barszewski

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Miami Herald: Planning board taps brakes on American Dream mega-mall momentum. Just a tap, though.


After reading the article below, join us and make your voice heard:

South Florida Regional Planning Council Special Meeting to address American Dream Miami Project
Friday, March 10, at 2:00 p.m.
3440 Hollywood Boulevard, Suite 140
Hollywood, Florida 33021


Asked to pass judgment on building the nation’s largest mall, a South Florida planning council on Monday said it would need a little more time. And it agreed to take a vote late next week.

Members of the South Florida Regional Planning Council rejected their staff’s request that they declare the American Dream Miami project “generally consistent” with local development goals. With the recommendation distributed Friday evening, members complained they had only the weekend to review the recommendation for a six-million-square-foot project in Northwest Miami-Dade that’s large enough to have an indoor ski slope, submarine rides and more retail space than Minnesota’s Mall of America.

“I have to object to our even taking this item up right now,” said Steve Geller, a Broward commissioner and council member. “I’m not a Miami-Dade commissioner. I’m a Broward commissioner. Our [county] staff hasn’t had the chance to analyze this.”

The back-and-forth of the obscure board headquartered in Hollywood captures a larger debate over the American Dream project, which sits about a mile south of the Broward line. Critics point to a steamrolling push for approval before Miami-Dade can extract deals from developer Triple Five on traffic, transit funding and other concessions. Representatives of the Canadian company, which owns Mall of America, say state law dictates the timetable and that the project has already been extensively vetted in the public for close to two years.

“We’ve been around for over a year and half,” said Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, the former state senator representing American Dream as a lawyer and lobbyist. “We’ve had two meetings in this very room.”

Council staff said they only received the paperwork from Miami-Dade last week and had to secure a speedy vote in order to inject the board’s verdict into a 30-day review of the project by Florida.

Miami-Dade had expected Florida to take an extra month to review American Dream, which would be the county’s largest development. But Mark Woerner, Miami-Dade’s planning director, said Florida opted to stick with the standard one-month process. The state review was triggered by Miami-Dade giving initial approval of the project on Jan. 25, and the Planning Council’s recommendation would head to Tallahassee, as well. A spokeswoman for the state Department of Economic Opportunity said the review schedule complies with state law.

With Florida’s review under way, the American Dream project faces a final vote before the County Commission in May or June, according to the most recent county schedule. Diaz de la Portilla said Monday the mall plans to open in 2022 and would be built in a single phase. Current plans call for the retail theme park, which expects to attract more than 40 million visitors a year, to be served by county buses and new highway overpasses.

While the planning council’s recommendation is new, the board — made up of elected officials from Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties — has already held hearings on the American Dream plan. And Broward County’s own planning staff has been analyzing the project for impacts to the northern county’s roads and transit system. In September, Broward’s planning division wrote Woerner with its own objections, including concerns more study is needed on traffic outside of Miami-Dade.

“I’d just like to express our concerns for the record,” Josie Sesodia, the Broward planning director, told members of the planning council Monday. “We should have the issues in Broward County adequately addressed.”

Geller’s objections on Broward’s behalf helped lead the Planning Council to agree to reconvene on Friday, March 10, at 2 p.m. to take up the $3 billion American Dream application. The stakes aren’t high: The state-chartered body mostly can offer commentary in an approval process that revolves around Florida and the Miami-Dade County Commission, and council members are already signaling the project’s likely endorsement.

“The traffic issue can probably be worked out,” said Michael Udine, another Broward commissioner. “Then we can all be kumbaya when it comes back to us, and move forward.”

By Douglas Hanks

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The Record: Local politicians weigh in on stalled American Dream

The state senator representing the Meadowlands district said he may sponsor a resolution urging the developer of the American Dream Meadowlands project to either resume construction or allow the state to consider finding an alternative project at the site.

“I want to see if there can be a piece of legislation to express our sentiment that Triple Five needs to decide what it is going to do,” said state Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Wood-Ridge. “We can’t just have this thing staying dormant.”

Attorneys for the project, while pressing in September for immediate dismissal of a lawsuit by a nonprofit group over a proposed issuance of $1.15 billion in bonds, told the state Appellate Court that failure to grant their request would prevent the scheduled Nov. 4 bond issuance. And when construction workers were called off the site by the developer in December, a project official said work would resume “after the holidays.” January and February came and went with no sign of construction activity at the 100-acre site.

State Sen. Gerald Cardinale, R-Demarest, said such a resolution would be “pointless – just a feel-good measure” because it would be non-binding. The December 2003 developer’s agreement with the state does not specify a deadline by which the shopping-and-entertainment project must be completed. A second phase that would include 1.8 million square feet of office space would be constructed only if the developer found favorable market conditions.

All local officials contacted about the project – which is being built on state-taxpayer-owned land – sounded befuddled about the future of American Dream. A Triple Five spokesman did not offer a comment on the project or when the bonds – which would be paired with more than $1 billion in private financing – would finally be issued. The parameters of the bond issuance were approved by state officials in 2013. A spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie declined to comment, although Christie previously has said the project is a private entity so there is little left for government to do.

“It does seem to be an ill-fated kind of place, doesn’t it?” Cardinale said. “There was a lot of hope that thing would take off. But every time I pass by, I can see the cranes are not moving. It’s a fantastic location, but is it fiscally viable? The people in the financial markets seem to be skeptical.”

Sarlo said he has “sort of given up thinking about” the project.

“I don’t want to get myself, my constituents or the building trades all worked up over it,” Sarlo said.

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, said she thinks about American Dream “every time I drive by, which is pretty often.”

“I’m hopeful somebody will get it moving again,” Weinberg said. “Have I seen any action to suggest that will happen in the near future? No, I haven’t. And I don’t know about the idea of opening up a shopping mall, when you read all this news about stores closing down around the country.”

Richard Codey, the Democratic senator from Essex County, was governor in 2005 when heavy construction began on Meadowlands Xanadu, the predecessor project of American Dream Meadowlands.

“I’d like to see it open, given that building would help the construction workers,” Codey said. “But malls are closing all over, not opening. I used to think [Triple Five] was smart, but now I don’t know that.”

Triple Five took over in 2010 and became the third developer to try to complete the project, whose variety of color schemes has been the object of bipartisan derision.

“February has come and gone without a bond sale, and I doubt March is in the cards, either,” said James Cassella, the East Rutherford mayor since 1996.

“No one can put their finger on exactly what the hold-up is,” Cassella added. “Some suspect it has to do with the outside financing; others say it’s the state of the bond market. Who knows? I can’t tell you what’s going on.”

Cassella said bond attorneys for the borough and the project continue to communicate, but he hasn’t spoken “in months” to Tony Armlin, who is overseeing the project for Triple Five.

“A lot of the locals don’t even ask anymore, they just shake their heads,” Cassella said. “We feel kind of immune to it. Hopefully, it happens, but life will go on with or without it. When people do ask me what I think is going to happen, I say, ‘You might as well ask me what I’m going to roll at the casino playing craps.’ ”

By John Brennan , Staff Writer, @BergenBrennan

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The Real Deal: Developer of Miami mall struggles to finish one in NJ

The developer of the massive American Dream Miami shopping mall missed a target date to raise construction financing to finish building another mall development in New Jersey.

Developer Don Ghermezian expected in December to raise $2.7 billion to finish construction of the half-built American Dream shopping mall on a 90-acre site in the Meadowlands area of northeastern New Jersey.

But construction work at the mall site has been suspended. A spokesman for Triple Five last week told WNYC News that the company was still seeking construction financing, which it had planned to arrange before Christmas.

Ghermezian and his company, Triple Five, planned to raise the construction financing through private borrowing and a tax-free municipal bond offering.

He insisted in a December interview with WNYC News that Triple Five will complete construction of the unfinished American Dream mall in the Meadowlands.

“There was no project that we’ve come as far as we’ve come with the American Dream and decided to step back,” he told WNYC.

The Miami-Dade County Commission last month voted 11-1 to approve a comprehensive master plan amendment, changing the designation for the 194.5-acre development American Dream Miami site, sandwiched between Interstate 75 and Florida’s Turnpike, from “industrial office” to “business office.” Now the project heads to state regulatory agencies for further analysis before coming back to the county commission for final approval.

Triple Five also owns Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, and the West Edmonton Mall in Canada.

by Mike Seemuth, WNYC News

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Press Release: Miami-Dade Leaders Committed to Protecting Taxpayer Dollars

(MIAMI, February 1, 2017) - Last week the Board of Miami-Dade County Commissioners and Mayor Carlos Gimenez reassured Miami-Dade residents that they are committed to protecting taxpayer dollars. During the Miami-Dade Comprehensive Development Master Plan (CDMP) meeting held on January 25th. The commissioners were vocal about making sure that the developers behind the American Dream Miami mega mall, Triple Five, would not receive any public funding to finance the project. Below are some of the comments made at the meeting.

"I will not entertain any kind of county tax moneys going into this. I want to make sure that the record reflects, I am not in favor of hard-earned county tax dollars to be used for this private project." District 12 Commissioner, Jose "Pepe" Diaz, who is the commissioner for the district in which the project would be located.

"To the issue of no public money, I support that..." District 4 Commissioner, Sally Heyman.

"On the issue of committing to having no funds from the county, I do warn you, if we start committing future real estate taxes for present capital's very, very risky for future generations, so I'm initially not inclined to support that. Like Commissioner Diaz stated, I'm hoping that this is going to be a project that is privately financed." District 7 Commissioner, Xavier Suarez.

"On the question of subsidy, we've heard that there's no appetite, we've read that the Mayor has no appetite for providing that kind of tax increment financing for this project; couldn't we covenant for that?" District 8 Commissioner, Daniella Levine Cava.

"I am not in favor of creating some sort of TIF (tax increment financing) here or anything like that." District 13 Commissioner and Commission Chair, Esteban Bovo.

"I am very glad that [Commissioner Diaz] touched all the bases of not using taxpayer, county funds for this. For me the most important part is not using county taxpayer funds." District 6 Commissioner, Rebeca Sosa.

"There is one thing that I will definitely fight against... There's a big difference between county dollars and taxpayer dollars. If those things are included and we pay for it, it's taxpayer dollars and I will not support it." District 11 Commissioner, Joe Martinez.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez told reporters "they [the developer] can ask for whatever they want to ask for, but I have said very clearly, not only in public but also to them personally, that Miami-Dade County is not going to give any aid with public money for their project." Click here to see the interview.

To view the CDMP meeting in its entirety, please click here.

The South Florida Taxpayers Alliance was formed to represent the best interest of the entire community and Miami-Dade taxpayers. SFTA's goal is to ensure that the American Dream Miami project is developed responsibly and that it is not funded by government subsidies or by Miami-Dade taxpayers.