Potential 'Traffic Nightmare,' Environmental Damage Loom Over Greenlighted Miami Mega-Mall

May 18, 2018

Derek Cintron has lived most of his life in Miami Lakes. He says he loved the area so much that he decided to buy a house there five years ago.

Now Cintron is considering a move. He lives 10 minutes away from the site of the future American Dream Miami, the $4 billion retail theme park the county voted Thursday to approve. It would be the largest mall in North America at 6.2 million square feet – big enough to house an artificial ski slope and submarine rides.

Read More: American Dream Mega-Mall Development Passes Crucial Votes, Will Move Forward

Cintron is most concerned about the potential traffic nightmare.

“It’s a monster,” he says. “It’s a leviathan of traffic coming.”

The mega-mall’s developer, Triple Five, which owns Mall of America in Minnesota, commissioned a traffic study estimating about 70,000 cars a day would make the trip in and out of the park. The mall is planned on a 175-acre site where I-75 meets Florida’s Turnpike and would sit just south of the Broward County line (prompting threats of a lawsuit over the developer’s traffic plan).

Thursday’s commission meeting, however, drew more supporters than opponents.

WLRN asked listeners what they think about the project. Some like Albert Galvan of Kendall say a mall could boost the local economy.

“It will have more attractions that make Miami stand out,” he says.

Pamela Bustios of Miami Beach says the city doesn’t need another mall.

“We need more open parks with benches and more places to walk or ride bicycles to,” she says.

Environmental groups like the Sierra Club have also criticized the project, saying it would damage critical wetlands.

On The Florida Roundup on Friday, May 18, WLRN’s Luis Hernandez spoke with Jim Defede, an investigative reporter for CBS4 News in Miami, about the next steps for American Dream Miami. He was joined by WLRN reporter Danny Rivero, who covered the county commission vote, and Brian Bandell, of the South Florida Business Journal. 

Hernandez: The interesting part about this is [that] before there was conversation about [whether we] should we make the developer pay for some sort of rail system or transit system to try to alleviate this coming traffic monster that's now going to come because of the mall.

B.B.: The developer is going to pay for a lot of road improvements. They're estimating $210 million in road improvements that have to be done before they're allowed to open. And then on top of that there's an estimated $58 million in impact fees. Part of the controversy between the commissioners is some commissioners wanted the impact fees all in the area near the mall, so it would improve the cities like Miami Lakes, and other commissioners are like that's not fair, we want it through the county. In the end, it was normal, it was through the county.

When you say a road improvement - widening of roads, adding more roads? There are only a couple of ways into this spot.

B.B.: Both. They're widening roads. They're adding new roads, they're adding four new exits on the Turnpike and I-75. So, for those of you who drive along there, you know, there's going to be a lot of traffic from construction in the next five years.

J.D: The commission vote is a step, but, you know, environmentalists do not tend to go to commission meetings where they know they're going to be outgunned by politicians who take campaign contributions from developers. So, instead they rely on the court system. So, you can expect to see lots of lawsuits. I can guarantee you anything this close to the Everglades is going to end up in federal court. The notion that this was going to open in four to five years, I wouldn't buy my tickets just yet to fly down for the opening.

D.R.: There's a whole litany of permits that the company needs ... from how they're going to get the water, if they're going to recycle the water, you know, a lot of transit things... So this is by no means done. They have a lot of hoops to go through including probably the court system.

This has been in the works for a number of years. Who has been the one pushing it the hardest?

B.B.: Well, Triple Five is the company that owns the Mall of America in Minnesota. They're also building American Dream Meadowlands in New Jersey, which has many similar features to this although not quite as big in some of the features.

They certainly had the money and they've done it before so the project in New Jersey has been delayed and taken longer than than they expected. Though they say it's going to open next year. The company has resources. I think the big question is will they be able to get the about $4 billion they need to build it. You know it's a tremendous amount of money even for someone who has a lot of financial resources.

Is there a positive to this?

B.B.: Yeah, it will create jobs. Keep in mind a lot of those in hospitality and retail probably won't be the highest paying jobs. You probably won't be able to buy a house with that kind of a job. Some of the jobs, of course, might be a little higher if you're the manager of a store manager of a hotel. But yeah, it will create jobs in that market and you know if you create a lot of jobs perhaps the salaries will rise because companies will start getting desperate and paying more. Although we haven't seen that in today's job market yet.

Would something like this boost the area, more development, boost home prices, anything like that?

B.B.: It will definitely help hotels because it's expected to draw 30 million visitors, so probably more hotels will be needed, more hotels will be built, probably more flights in the airport if more visitors come home. Home values, it depends where your home is, if you live in the area there might be a reason to put your home on AirBnb now. Previously, why would you want to be in a house, you know, in Miami Lakes, but now you’re right there.

That, in fact, is a major sticking point with environmentalists because this is so close to the Everglades, so if you're going to build additional housing that's not there right now, you know, you'd be encroaching a lot onto the Urban Development Boundary. And that's a big fear for people that live in that area. Then the other question is will that will that housing be affordable for the kind of workers that are going to be working there - which are a lot of retail jobs, somewhere around the mid 20,000 is what we're looking at for the salaries.

J.D.: The one thing that Dade County has well done is create an urban development boundary line and this is inside of it. But anyone who doesn't think that building something like this near the urban development boundary line isn't going to create enormous pressure to push that boundary line and to break it and move further west into the Everglades is crazy eventually. This is the camel's nose under the tent.