The idea to do something new with the Miami Zoo came up after Hurricane Andrew devastated the Miami-Dad area back in 1992. The zoo, trashed from the disaster, experienced a drastic annual attendance drop, going from about one million a year to about a third of that. They’re hoping that this attempt draws more positive outcomes than their last one.
Back in 2002, Miami-Dade County started groundwork that included rezonings and a 2002 master plan. In 2009, the county issued a proposal request for a water park, hotel and family entertaining center on the vacant land by the zoo that runs along both sides of the main entrance road from Southwest 152nd Street. Unfortunately, the request only garnered two responses, neither of which officials felt would be possible. In the end, they felt that the recession had taken too much of a toll on the country to pull the kind of plans they had for the zoo theme park, but there were also mentions that the previous plans were “too restrictive,” parks director Jack Hardy’s told Miami Herald.
Now, with zoo attendance back up, thanks to some sprucing up of the area and new attractions (a $40 million Florida Exhibit that will feature native wildlife, an Everglades boat ride and a beautiful new entrance, just to name a few), park officials are ready to give it another go. This time around, park officials have designed a request that allows for more flexibility; they’ve described their goals of constructing a water-oriented resort and an entertainment destination that is integrated with the Miami Zoo, rail museum and military museum, but they’ve left the specifics and the layout up to applicants they hope will make proposals on the park.
“We’re asking developers what they think would fit here best,” Kardys said. “These guys do this for a living.”
Proposals will be due by April 30th of this year, and then, if all goes well, an evaluation team will meet and make their recommendations to Mayor Carlos Gimenez. All in all, Kardys believes the evaluation will take about three months.
So what does all this mean for potential park-goers in the future? Kardys says that there have been discussions among developers that have ranged from a movie studio to a Main Street USA theme, and even a themed water attraction and hotel.
“It’s been pretty interesting,” he said. “I think we’ll see something that gets themed in that Disney, Universal Studio type thing. That’s the kind of ambience and thematic development we’d like to see.”
In addition to the roughly 120 acres of zoo property, Gold Cost Railroad Museum property, and a military museum that has long been in the works, and 140 acres of protected pinelands that cannot be touched, a 39 acre parcel that belongs to the Coast Guard may be included in the new proposal plan. The Coast Guard has also mentioned the idea of selling the rest of its base – approximately 250 acres of vacant land, a 70 acre pineland, an administration building, and a communications facility. However, the developers will likely have to work with the coast guard on this portion separately since they are likely to request replacement facilities as a part of the agreement.
Another key factor in the proposals that will be considered will be financing; County Commissioner Dennis Moss says that the deal will most likely be financed by the private developer.
“They have to show they have the wherewithal do to this,” Moss told Miami Herald.
But if this takes off, it could mean some serious development for the Miami-Dade area, an area that has suffered greatly from economic issues. Moss says that while he can’t comment on any specific bid developers at this time because the invitation is under a “cone of silence,” he did share that there are some serious potential developers that are interested in helping the county fulfill its goal of turning the zoo into a major tourist attraction, which would thereby increase the economic security of Miami-Dade’s working residents.
“It will bring people into the area, and they will spend money, and that means jobs and economic development,” Moss said. “We feel the timing is right and that at the end of the day we will have a credible proposal.”