After nearly a decade of planning and discussion, the Miami-Dade County Commission will decide in September whether to move forward with the voter-approved Miami Wilds project adjacent to ZooMiami that has long been a cornerstone of South Dade’s future economic development.
The eco-sensitive project includes a water park, a family friendly boutique hotel, an interpretative learning environment and a small number of retail shops and restaurants aimed at showcasing the surrounding area’s Everglades-related habitat and pineland forest. While sensitive to nearby natural areas, the entirety of the Miami Wilds project, located on County owned land at 12400 SW 152 Street, is outside of environmentally protected areas. (See map)
“Miami Wilds presents an opportunity to share the area’s unique natural resources with both residents and visitors to our community in a way that emphasizes environmental awareness, conservation and sustainability” said County Commissioner Dennis Moss, an ardent supporter of the project that lies within his District 9, which was ravaged by Hurricane Andrew more than 25 years ago.
In 2006, County voters approved a ballot item in favor of developing the property to include a water park, a hotel and related retail concessions. The project, under review for more than a decade, is seen as an important component of efforts to boost South Dade’s economy. The area has never fully recovered from the devasting 1992 hurricane and, still today, lags behind the rest of Miami-Dade for jobs, transportation and other services.
“It is the right project at the right time for the South Dade Community,” says Moss. Miami Wilds will not only create an estimated 304 new jobs for area residents when it opens and 403 jobs when fully operational, but will increase awareness and bolster nearby attractions including ZooMiami and its new Everglades exhibits; the historic Florida Gold Coast Railroad Museum and the South Florida Military Museum and Veterans Memorial; and local farm-sourced food options in the neighboring Homestead and the Redlands.
South Dade businessman and community leader Rene Infante is among the many area businesspeople who support the project as a boost the local economy. “Miami Wilds will be an important new source of pride for South Dade, one which will create significant economic opportunities for an often-overlooked section of our County,” says Infante, who owns the nearby Redland Market Village.
Miami Wilds is a public/private partnership, overseen by the County’s Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department. Private sector partners include award-winning architect Bernard Zyscovich, CEO of Zyscovich Architects, Palmetto Bay-resident and Miami real estate advisor Paul Lambert, Michael Diaz Managing Partner of Diaz Reus and Emmanuel Uche, President of East Coast Development Enterprise.
“We are committed to the principles of conservation and protection,” Zyscovich said. “Miami Wilds is designed as both a leisure destination for outdoor family fun and a unique learning venue that spotlights conservation of the Pine Rocklands Forest for future generations.”
Lambert said the project aligns well with local tourism efforts that focus on South Florida’s wide-open outdoors beyond Miami’s beaches, culture offerings and nightlife.
“We seek to create a carefully managed development that will protect and nurture the nearby area and its unique ecosystem,” Lambert said. “The site is now an underutilized, paved parking lot that adds little value to the area.”
Miami Wilds has engaged Orlando based ProParks Attraction Group to operate and manage the water park and associated facilities.
Revenue from the project will help insure the necessary financial resources and infrastructure for the maintenance of the surrounding natural areas and support the future capital needs of the zoo.
In recognition that the Miami Wilds project is an economic catalyst for South Dade, the developers are committed to creating a skilled jobs’ training program for local job seekers in conjunction with local schools and colleges and create broad opportunities for local small business enterprises to participate in the project. Construction is expected to take 24 months after it begins in 2021 with a projected 2023 opening date.
“This has been a very long time coming,” said Moss, who due to term limits will end a 27-year career as one of the County’s longest-serving county commissioners. “Voters agreed to this project back in 2006 and I want to make good on that commitment.”