Thursday, November 06, 2014

MIAMI WILDS: Stupid Theme Park... Guest Blog by "I Was Duped"

Rendering of Miami Wilds: So compatible with Valuable Subtropical Farms, Endangered Rock Pinelands and the Everglades...NOT

Get Ready for a Miami-Wilds Ride! Wasn't Orlando Enough for Florida??

Should I be surprised? No, but I am. The Board of County Commissioners has just taken the first step in funding Miami Wilds - the 21 Century Fox Theme Park that is about to invade Zoo Miami. Of course the allocation of bond money to relocate Coast Guard facilities was never heard by committee; it was put on as a last minute agenda item, and it passed. I am shocked, shocked! (Genius: this is Miami, I am never shocked).

A little background:

In 2006, voters approved an amendment to Article 7 (then Article 6). That amendment protects county and most cities' parks from an excess of commercial development. From the beginning, Article 7 exempted large regional parks that by their nature would benefit from some commercial facilities such as restaurants. Metro Zoo (now Zoo Miami) was one of the exemptions. Visitors to zoos expect to be able to get some food and beverages, to buy gifts and rent bikes. All of these are compatible with going to a zoo. The amendment approved in 2006, however, involved land around the zoo. Here it is:

Provided that revenues will be used to expand Metrozoo facilities and educational and conservation programs, shall the County be allowed to contract to develop and operate an entertainment district, to include commercial uses and structures such as water park rides and attractions, related retail concessions, food and beverage establishments, a hotel, and a family entertainment center, on Metrozoo property on land that is not environmentally sensitive and is outside the animal attractions

The idea of additional facilities outside of the zoo proper did not seem like such a bad idea. A water park can be a real pleasure in the summer; a sit-down restaurant can be nice too, maybe a small hotel so people could make a weekend of it. It also looked like a way to provide more funding to the zoo. The Commission had previously approved plans for new development within the zoo - including the Aviary which had been destroyed by Hurricane Andrew; better, and some new, facilities for the animals; and much more landscaping. It was a very grand plan - and an expensive one. New facilities generate new costs and thus a need for additional revenue to support the zoo. That seemed reasonable.

Now, years later, after no water-park operators were interested, this apparently "good idea" has turned into a boondoggle. The County is getting prepared to give a long term lease for public land and a big chunk of bond money to 21th Century Fox to build a massive theme park! Check out the renderings.

Fantasy land!! Large rides, a grand hotel - and somewhere in there a water park. After all this is 21th Century Fox! Rupert Murdoch does not think small - he is marching forward with the entertainment section of his former news empire. In an email to, a vacation planning site, Greg Lombardo, vice president of live and location based entertainment for 20th Century Fox Consumer Products, said: "With a strong international and domestic tourism market and a year-round climate, Miami is a great potential US location for a 20th Century Fox World theme park. We view this as a strong opportunity."

For them, a strong opportunity; for us, a train-wreck. I do not believe for a second that the plan will live up to the amendment's obligation to support educational and conservation programs. I do not believe for a minute that the plan will respect the provision that it not harm environmentally sensitive land. These are Pinelands and endangered species which, if not handled well, will be lost. I somehow just can't see a restaurant or hotel providing up-close (and very smoky) views of the pinelands when they undergo required controlled burns.

I have to admit that I did not oppose the referendum. In fact I argued for it. I feel very burned. There are still permits to be given and agreements to be passed, but this is the starting line. We need to be ready for a long and nasty race with this monster.

Also see article in Miami New Times 

(Genius: 75% of Florida voted to buy endangered land for saving, look what Miami Dade County is doing with its MOST ENDANGERED LAND - building a Walmart and creating this spectacle. Orlando is enough for me. We should have a bus from Moss's district to Orlando. I would gladly contribute to it if his constituents want theme park fun. This isn't a money-maker for the residents.) 


Anonymous said...

Funny the Herald story doesn't mention anybody the environmental stuff. I guess a rare and endangered Pinelands is not important.

Anonymous said...

Geez, can't we have real economic development - you know like a major corporation or manufacturing facility? This is crap service jobs, part time no benefits. Each job will cost taxpayers more than what they pay. And then the whole thing will shut dine for lack if attendance and well be left with the shuttered spooky theme park and no Pinelands. And in debt.

Anonymous said...

The Parks Department and the Mayor's office are pursuing this project at all costs, as an economic 'game-changer.' The problem is that the cost will be acres and acres of globally endangered pine rocklands, in the largest and last significantly sized tract outside of Everglades National Park. 98% of this habitat has been wiped off the face of the earth.

Commissioner Moss has been trying to achieve an addition to the zoo for probably 20 years.

Commissioner Moss: do you really believe the Parks Department when they tell you the theme park and pineland can co-exist? Because they can't. The theme park will consume precious forest and lands where the forest could be restored. The theme park will also make appropriate management of what remains of the forest impossible. What remains will be lost to neglectful management over time.

Commissioner Moss - even if you don't care about this forest, the Feds do. It is designated critical habitat for endangered species and just like they are taking a renewed critical look at the RAM development/Walmart site, they will bring new and heightened scrutiny to this project. Has the Parks Department or DERM told you that yet?

And yesterday's decision to fund the removal if USCG facilities to make room for the theme park was a colossal mistake. Those antennas are precisely on lands that could easily be restored to pine rockland. But again, Commissioner Moss, even if you don't care about the forest, do you even know if the USCG is willing to go? Shouldn't we know that before committing $13.5 million?

Back when the Parks Department was pushing for approval of this project, they promised $100,000 per year to manage the pinelands around the zoo . How are they doing on that commitment? Someone should ask.

Commissioner Moss: surely there is another site in your District that the theme park can get built that doesn't destroy endangered species and globally-imperiled habitat. Surely you don't want to build this project at any cost. Surely the Parks Department is lying to you about how the project and the park can coexist. Stand up and show the world that some things are worth saving.

Anonymous said...

Does either the Mayor or Commissioners care about how this will impact the neighborhood? Traffic is already a nightmare. Make no mistake, we don't want the theme park.

Anonymous said...

Get ready taxpayers... This $13.5 million is a drop in the bucket. The developers of Miami Wilds want $130 million in public funding for this debacle and crime against nature. What a joke!

Anonymous said...

Let's look at the finances of the last county and city subsidized theme park: Parrot (Jungle) Island. A big money loser. Attendance projections never materialized. Cruise ship passengers never showed up. What makes Moss think this is any different?

Anonymous said...

BTW what business is it of the Miami Dade Parks dept to develop theme parks on public land. The endangered Lands program is supposed to protect and Preserve these natural areas for future generations to learn and enjoy from. What travesty.

Anonymous said...

Now that Scott hit rejected, I'm sure with the right lobbyists the state legislature will be glad to give taxpayer money for this destructive boondoggle while saying sorry, there's just no money for public schools or medical care for the poor or disabled.

Anonymous said...

What park's department? There are no autonomous departments any more. County departments are only extensions of the person sitting in that enormous office on the 29 floor. Any department director, assistant mayor or commissioner not willing to carry out the mayor-in-chief's personal vision of "how things should be" is shown the door.

Picture Ned Betty and Howard Finch in the boardroom scene from Network.

Al Crespo said...

Yesterday I spent 6 hours at the Miami-Dade County Commission meeting. This morning I was up at 5AM to start writing the first of at least 4 or 5 new stories that will probably result in Jeffrey Berkowitz's lawyer parking her ass in front of my door to issue me threatening letters after each one.

Now, I know that none of you folks who write comments on this blog are willing to commit anywhere near the time and effort that I, or the writers of this blog, or the writers of other blogs spend in trying to uncover or explain just what is going on behind the curtain of all these municipalities and cities in Miami-Dade County, but other than writing comments bitching about what you learn from us is going wrong, just what in the hell are any of you really doing about any of this?

Did you vote? Obviously not too many folks did, because Rick Scott is still Governor.

Have you written a letter to your City or County Commissioner, or the Mayor to complain about these misuses of public money?

Have you ever been to City Hall, or County Hall to stand up and say your piece?

Have you tried to get your family, your friends, your co-workers to do any of the above?

If you are on Facebook or Twitter do you ever forward the links to the stories that all of us bloggers write to your list of family and friends?

In short, do you do anything short of bitching? Because yesterday, other than a nice lady from the Audubon Society who had her speaker's card mysteriously disappear, I neither saw or heard anyone standing up to say that they were displeased with what the Commission was planning to do with your tax money.

al crespo

Anonymous said...

Whether or not people were in the Chambers yesterday, this item was on the fast track. It may be nuts but it has gotten traction on 29th floor and it will take effort to derail it. At this point, it may be best to make sure the Feds are doing their due diligence. Everyone is deferring to Moss on this one, He is not one of the worst up there - probably one of the best. On this issue he has swallowed a bill of goods. Who will really make money? Developers always do - then they can unload it before it completely dies and move on.

Anonymous said...

Oh for Pete's sake - just what we need a doomed to fail, abandoned theme park at the door of what should be a classy zoo. What are they smoking? (oh - forgot - Amendment 2 failed).

Anonymous said...

Al Crespo- the lady from Audubon actually represents hundreds of members. She is speaking for many. Did they let her talk? Because the Herald story on the meeting doesn't mention any opposition or even that that land is an endangered Pinelands, though there have been stories about the ecological significance in the past. Did any of the commissioners ask about how the pine lands could be compatible?

Al Crespo said...

It wasn't on that fast a track. This item was written about in Herald article before yesterday's meeting, and anyone who had even 5 brains cells could have probably stumbled on the fact that this item was coming up for a vote yesterday.

Now, I will agree that the system for how this money is allocated is really screwed up, but how many of you really know or understand how the process actually works?

You can't start tacking a problem if you haven't a clue how it works, so that you can then formulate a plan of attack.

I've dealt a lot with the whole issue ofeconomic development giveaways in the past with the film industry, so I have some understanding of what happened yesterday and how to frame arguments to oppose these kinds of giveaways, but I would urge folks who really care about how their tax dollars are being handled out as "gifts" to a selected handful of connected insiders and folks able to hire high-priced lawyers to quit bitching and starting learning. Even if you know what the game is there's no assurance that you can beat back these deals, but if you're clueless and just keep whining and bitching these folks will hand you your head every time, and then slap you afterwards for getting blood on them.

al crespo

Al Crespo said...

They finally let her speak. I only heard a portion of what she said because I was focused on something dealing with my issue, so I'll be frank and tell you I can't remember what item she talked about. She had signed up to talk about a couple, but was only allowed to talk about one. But you raise a very good point that everyone who reads this blog, and all the other blogs needs to focus on immediately.

You need to write or call the Miami Herald and bitch and complaint to them about the quality of the reporting. If you feel that you're not getting enough information from that newspaper, then tell that to the editors.

Yesterday was my first real experience - 6 hours worth - of seeing how the County Commission works, and it was a a real eye opener - both good and bad.

The only thing I can tell you is you got to know the rules, you got to have hard facts, and you got to be persistent.

al crespo

Anonymous said...

Al, Technically I believe the item was deferred. Which means it comes up again next meeting. Will Daniella on the new commission by then?
I predict Needle Dick Berkowitz is going to very between now and then buying the 2 extra votes he needs.

Anonymous said...

If Berkowitz wants Daniella's vote, he better be ready to commit to paying Living Wages for all the service workers who will wait tables and take tickets at this "iconic" erection.

Anonymous said...

Let’s hope that MDC will also budget funds for a psychiatrist that will be required to treat the many traumatized, depressed a possibly suicidal zoo animals.

Anonymous said...

Jungle Gardens, the effectively bankrupt catering hall on Jungle Island, owes various lenders over $50 Million. It owes money to HUD, maybe $25 Mil. Jungle Gardens is on taxpayer owned Watson Island. Jungle Islands never met any of its projections for workers hired from poor communities and it has never been able to pay its creditors on time.

Anonymous said...

Berkowitz will not be around to pay anyone. is a love them and leave them deal. He is just flipping this thing and needs the government seed money to float his con.

Besides the living wage is right up there with "minority participation" and "contributions to the area CRA" as the brown bag in which the developers' deliver the real payoff.
This technique was refined at the city of Miami over the decades. Now a favorite of Edmonson.

Anonymous said...

Even people who are agenda watchers were taken by surprise that Miami-Wilds was on this agenda. It was a late add-on and should have been 4 day ruled. Not one Commissioner had the nerve to do that. And Al -- welcome to the watchers club at the BCC. That was far from the worst I have seen. And agree entirely re the Nail Clipper. Berkowitz has something else up his sleeve. Mega Yachts? a new Island? who knows. Very icky!

Geniusofdespair said...

Welcome to my world Al, I usually watch at home so I don't wretch when they read their scripts from lobbyists. You haven't heard anything till you've heard Souto go into to one of his bizarro speeches, that's the most entertaining of all. This item was stuck on the agenda last minute, someone could've 4 day ruled it. Most commissioners don't want the ill will. I asked one commissioner, he wouldn't that is why no one knew about it. It was an add-on.

I think the woman you are speaking about is from tropical Audubon, Celeste. Not to be confused with Audubon. I was too depressed to watch it yesterday.

Geniusofdespair said...

There was a bright spot at yesterday's meeting. Wayne Rosen's project for funding was turned down. It's about time someone said no to him. Do you know in a deposition he said he got $1 million to put together a school deal. I think he's done enough with schools. they aren't a cash cow except in charter land.

Anonymous said...

You are right about HUD money. The county took CDBG money for poor communities and used it for collateral for money for Jungle Gardens. They default on the loan, these poor communities get nothin for many, many years.. Jungle gardens preys of of poor people.

Celeste said...

Hi Al & Genius, Celeste from Tropical Audubon here.

The lady at the BCC yesterday was Laura, Tropical Audubon's Executive Director. I was actually at the office trying to get Commissioners to 4-Day-rule the item (without any luck, because you know "it's just a rude thing to do"... why does that law even exist then?), while Laura rushed to the Commission to speak on the item. Trust me, it was a whole team effort.

I agree with Genius, this item was added last-minute. TAS has been involved on this issue since day 1 and we did not hear anything about this item being on the agenda until the meeting started!!! It took a lot of knowledgeable people by surprise (the fact that we didn't know about this, along with many other organizations who follow this issue tells you this item was sneaked in last minute).

Everyone needs to go to these meetings, send emails to their Commissioner and make phone calls to their offices. Then you gotta do the same with the Herald.

If you are unsure how to go about all this sort of stuff, let me help you. Feel free to email me at

We need more eyes on these issues, and we can never have too many writers ;)

Anonymous said...

What a travesty! And this is the same parks department that just got voter approval for parks in libraries, structures at Camp Matecumbe -- how close are these to the Boystown Pineland - and a megs soccer park. It will be a while before voters trust these guys again!

Cindy Lerner said...

Note to all would be activists, you must not wait until the full BCC meets to speak on these issues, you must read this blog , or follow the agenda for each committee ,to know when the committees meet. these projects were on the. Agenda for Economic Dev committee in July and then again last month. Doug Hanks wrote about both meetings in the. Herald. I went to both meetings, and spoke against the Lynda Bell sponsored project in July, with a few other people, and then again last month, I went to that follow up committee meeting, and was the ONLY Person there to speak against all the projects, everyone else there were lobbyists and investors begging for alms. Only Commissioner Zapata questioned these " friends and family " give aways, and called it "the mother of all slush funds" at the first committee meeting in July. Good for him. The $75 million should have clear target goals to actually attract new innovative businesses and industries established and then offer through RFP . Pay attention and show up at the meetings, all of them!!

Anonymous said...

Q: What do Viagra the mayor and six members of the BCC have in common?
A: They are all used to help Berkowitz get up his erection.

Seriously Cindy. a good blog post or a letter in the Herald is worth a week of sitting in the commission chambers to do a two minute rant from the well. Keep posting.

Anonymous said...

They all have their minds made up what is the point? Unless they get 100 phone calls or 200 people showing up they don't pay attention to the public. You are nobody to them.

Anonymous said...

This is really getting depressing. How is it that no one in any position of power understands what is special about Miami? And, enough already giving land away and then rather than receiving money from what is developed, we end up paying the developer to develop it.

This boondoggle sounds worse than the nailclipper because it destroys a vanishing ecosystem.

Anonymous said...

Someday maybe a successful businessperson will be elected to the County Commission or maybe even to be Mayor?

Anonymous said...

One argument that has not been mentioned against a theme park with outdoor vulnerable infrastructure are hurricane threats. Of all the stupid places to build an outdoor park with flimsy structures, Miami-Dade, the historical hurricane alley of the US...really? Does anyone, Moss, the others not remember what that little windstorm Andrew did to Metro Zoo. Yet we as home and business owners are required to build our structures like bunkers by code. What exactly is the hurricane cat 5 code for an outdoor theme ride? There are so many reasons why this is just wrong...and here is one more. Having worked while in college at Walt Disney World I know the pandemonium that just the threat of an approaching storm would cause in these parks. But at least in Central FL serious hurricanes are rare. It is the ultimate in irresponsibility to allow an outdoor theme park to be built in South Dade. I can easily foresee bits and pieces of this debacle blown far and wide over the zoo, all the surrounding communities, and the few left over pinelands. This thing is embarrassing and shameful.

Anonymous said...

Hmm hurricanes - re last comment: yes -- seems to me this plan came out of the devastation caused by Andrew. That should have brought on sustainable development - not this pipe-dream

Cindy - you are right. Time for t-shirts in the audience but also for letters and articles. And know they are a little more polite to you than to some of us other rabble-rousers.