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.