American Dream Miami is actually a nightmare

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The prospect of becoming home to a national tourist attraction for a local economy built on tourism is a powerful draw.

Landing an even bigger version of the Mall of America, dubbed “American Dream Miami,” promising tens of thousands of jobs and even more tourists to our region, with ski slopes and submarines, was exciting to many. This “entertainment” complex is still a mall, with 70% retail space according to the plan submitted.  

As a local government, we owe it to our residents to set aside emotional allure and investigate whether this project fits into the larger economic development, transportation, and climate resilience strategy for our community.

I believe this megamall will be a counterweight that frustrates our push toward a diverse, 21st century economy, transit-centric redevelopment, and climate resilience.

At completion, the megamall and approved development will account for more additional traffic than the entire population of Miami Gardens traveling to and from this one spot every day. It will require that we double the  size of the Turnpike and widen local roads to mitigate all of the new traffic generated.

There were some last minute attempts to connect this project to the “SMART” plan (our County’s public transportation plan) but the reality is that this megamall is seven miles from the closest transit corridor.  Miami-Dade Transit stated that in order to provide some transit connection for employees and visitors to the mall, this poorly-serviced area would need multiple routes at the cost of an additional $5 million a year in public subsidy.  

Over the last couple of years, the County has cut tens of millions of dollars from MDT’s operating budget, so in all likelihood, the megamall would divert millions of dollars away from existing communities, worsening an already near-crisis state for our County transit system.

The megamall developer said that they would offer a free shuttle service from key points in the County for tourists, and hopefully future employees.  Unfortunately, they resisted any attempt to put those commitments in writing.

The public is  rightfully concerned that taxpayers will be asked to help build this project.  Not only was there no commitment to refrain from seeking public subsidies, the developer’s representative protested that such a commitment would be unfair. Public subsidy is part of their business model.  As recently as March, they approached the city of Bloomington, home of their Mall of America, to seek $200 million in public funds to build a water park near the mall.

After construction, American Dream Miami will provide mostly low-wage jobs in a community suffering one of the worst housing and transportation affordability crises in the nation.  I pressed the development adjacent to the megamall to provide housing affordable to the workers there, but there was no commitment in writing.

I have spent 3+ years as a county commissioner trying to drive our community toward meaningful action on climate.  I have demanded swift accounting of our vulnerability to sea level rise and more aggressive action toward renewable energy solutions.

We must take these threats seriously, and this megamall sends the message that we do not.

The mall developers have a record of infusing environmental initiatives into their operations, including aggressive recycling programs and energy efficiency through passive design, all of which are laudable.  But how can we call any of that “sustainable” unless we ignore the contradiction that this massive development will pave over hundreds of acres of wetlands on the sprawling western fringe of our County to build 6 million square feet of air conditioned space that includes indoor snow skiing and a water park?

Again, when pressed to commit in writing to water reuse of the expected 2 million gallons of wastewater generated by the megamall, or to offset the enormous energy demands by covering the acres of mall rooftops with solar panels, the developer refused.  

On May 17, we faced  a serious choice about our future: focus on the SMART plan to relieve traffic and spur economic growth within our existing communities, or divert already inadequate transit and roadway funds to move low paid jobs to the western edge of our county for a development that will likely seek public subsidy, worsen traffic, and jeopardize our water supply and environment.

We chose the latter.

Miami-Dade County residents deserve leadership with a vision for a sustainable, inclusive, forward-thinking economy. In the end, I could not support this megamall because I believe that our limited dollars and attention are better focused on creating opportunities for transit-centric redevelopment, higher wage jobs, and a climate resilient future.