Plans to expand leisure attractions on land adjacent to Zoo Miami have been under discussion for decades. The zoo, constructed as part of the 1972 Decade of Progress Bond Program, was seen as a major enhancement to South Florida’s outdoor recreational offerings for the enjoyment of both residents and out-of-town visitors, but in need of ancillary attractions to reach its full potential as a true leisure destination.
Interest in developing county-owned land adjacent to Zoo Miami continued in the wake of Hurricane Andrew in 1992. South Dade, which suffered the brunt of the storm, needed to rebuild its severely damaged economy. A commitment was made by local leaders to expand the zoo’s recreational footprint in the community by developing nearby, unused land.
Decades later, with development plans on the table, economic development in South Dade still lags behind the rest of Miami Dade for jobs, transportation and other services. In 2006, the County took the issue to voters. A ballot item was approved by nearly 64% of voters in favor of developing the property to include a water park, a hotel and related retail concessions. Subsequently, Miami-Dade County, after public hearings, as well as the State of Florida approved and amended the Comprehensive Plan to allow the development of the entertainment project the voters approved in 2006 to proceed.
The County solicited proposals for development and, following a selection process, entered into negotiations with Miami Wilds to develop an eco-sensitive project that would combine family-friendly, recreational activities with learning experiences related to the nearby habitats. The public-private partnership project, now under discussion and review for years, continues to be seen as an important component of efforts to boost South Dade’s economy.
The current proposal is a scaled down version of earlier plans to build a larger leisure activities complex. In response to concerns about nearby habitats, the 27.5-acre Miami Wilds has been re-designed and significantly downsized to be constructed only within existing parking areas, mitigating concerns associated with impacts on adjacent areas. The entirety of the 27.5 acre Miami Wilds project is located on County owned land outside of environmentally protected areas.
The Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners is scheduled to vote only on the ground lease component of Miami Wilds in September. Site plan approval by the County and any other relevant regulatory agencies will be required subsequent to lease approval.
History of Public Input Opportunities Associated with Zoo Miami Entertainment Area/Miami Wilds by Direct Vote or Through Public Meetings
The public input process and opportunity for the public to make their views heard associated with the development of the Zoo Miami Entertainment Area and associated plans inclusive of Miami Wilds has occurred over more than a decade. These opportunities have included, but have not been limited to the following.
Approval in a public referendum of an entertainment area adjacent to the Zoo outside of the environmentally sensitive areas by nearly 64% of Miami-Dade County voters in November, 2006.
Comprehensive Development Master Plan (CDMP) Amendment in July 2008 allowing for the development of the MetroZoo Entertainment Area for the proposed water park, hotel, and other entertainment uses and additional Board approved amendment to the MetroZoo Development of Regional Impact development order to permit the development of a water theme park, a family entertainment center, a hotel, and other entertainment and recreational uses.
Further Amendment to the CDMP in 2010 associated with Miami MetroZoo Entertainment Areas I and II expanding the allowable development program and inclusive of the Coast Guard property.
Approval of issuance of Invitation to Negotiate associated with the development of the Zoo Miami Entertainment Area in December, 2012.
Board of County Commission Direction to Mayor to Negotiate Directly with Miami Wilds in 2014.
Board approval in 2014 for $13.5 million in GOB project funds for Miami Wilds and Zoo Miami Parking and Infrastructure Improvements.
Board of County Commission Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs Committee Review and Public Comment, September, 2020.