Miami moves forward with a 'high-quality value alternative' to Orlando's attractions

Miami moves forward with a 'high-quality value alternative' to Orlando's attractions
Image via Miami Wilds | Facebook
While tourism leaders in Orlando continue to pull back on new investments amidst the pandemic, government officials in Miami are giving millions in tax subsidies to help attract new hospitality jobs. The county commissioners approved a resolution Nov. 13 to provide a $112.5 million mixed-use resort development proposed for the parking lot at Zoo Miami.

The project is the culmination of a nearly decade-long process to enhance tourism offerings on the zoo’s property. The county vetted multiple proposals for the site, but chose the Miami Wilds project over more ambitious projects. The original plan had a budget nearly nine times what is now proposed and included a large amusement park themed to 20th Century Fox franchises. According to developers, those plans were scrapped due to concern over an endangered tiger beetle found on the site. A second endangered species, the bonneted bat, was also found on the site.

Miami moves forward with a 'high-quality value alternative' to Orlando's attractions (3)
Image via Miami Wilds
The Miami Wilds project calls for a two-phase development. The first phase will see a 20-acre water park expected to attract over half a million visitors per year. This would mean it will see attendance comparable to Atlanta’s Six Flags White Water or a quarter of WDW’s Typhoon Lagoon estimated annual attendance. According to a feasibility assessment, over 45% of the water park visitors are expected to come from outside the South Florida region. The water park will be managed by Orlando-based ProParks, a water park operations and management company that also oversaw the opening of Orlando’s Island H2O water park. The water will feature a lazy river, a wave pool, and more than half a dozen water slides.

In documents the Miami Wilds developer submitted to Miami-Dade, they note, “Miami Wilds provides Miami-Dade County a fighting chance to recapture local resident entertainment expenditure, which is leaking out of South Florida practically every day and being spent 250 miles to the north. While the power, quality and gravity of the Orlando attractions will continue to draw residents from our market, a high-quality value alternative close to home is expected to provide a compelling reason for South Florida residents to spend a fair amount of disposable entertainment income in Miami-Dade County rather than six or seven counties away.”

A small retail development and a 200-room boutique hotel will also eventually be added to the site. The yet to be named retail village will include numerous small specialty shops and a handful of restaurants.
Miami moves forward with a 'high-quality value alternative' to Orlando's attractions (2)
Image via Miami Wilds
As part of the county subsidy agreement, the developer guarantees the creation of 403 jobs that pay the county’s current living wage of $35,620. This is below annual salary estimates for arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media jobs in the region ($44,451) but well above the $21,478 estimate for food preparation and serving-related positions in the region.

A study cited by the developer claims the project will net nearly $24.51 million annually in direct and indirect recurring wages for Miami-Dade with a total economic benefit of over $64 million. This assumes the attendance, employment, and other estimates are remain accurate.

Miami Wilds is expected to break ground within the next year and a half and has an estimated 18-month construction timeline. A second Miami area water park is planned as part of the upcoming American Dream Miami megamall project. That water park is currently slated to open around the same time as Miami Wilds.

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