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.
- 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