Bringing the Mountain to Miami

One man's vision for Watson Island: A 200-foot-high ski slope fully equipped with sleigh rides, a rain forest, and a hot new nightclub in the sky

When Plattner failed to win the Coliseum bid, he began scouting for other cities where he might realize his plans. Dallas and Houston were considered, but he fell in love with Miami. "Other cities are a backup," he says. "If Miami doesn't want it, I'll respect their decision and I'll go on. But I really believe that Mt. Miami should be born in Miami. It's an outrageously synthetic city. It's a juxtaposition of neon and natural. It's already a palm tree with neon on it. I see it as a palm tree with neon on a mountain covered in snow."

Stierheim wants Plattner to consider building Mt. Miami at another location, maybe adjacent to the ailing Metrozoo. Plattner adamantly refuses. "I am sold on Watson Island," he stresses. "I think [Mt. Miami] should be in the middle of things, not far away. I don't want the old Miami Arena or anywhere else. I don't want to save the world."

Watson Island also appeals to Bern Levine, proprietor of Parrot Jungle; he is scheduled to build a new version of his tourist attraction on 18.6 acres of the island's northeast side. Plattner's detailed plan, however, is news to Levine. "I'm surprised," he says, noting that he first learned of Mt. Miami last week. "I can't imagine that somebody would spend ten cents on us if they could go skiing right across the street. I do know that we have a height restriction on the island that prevents us from building anything taller than 55 feet. I see they want to build a dome that's 200 feet in the sky. Give me a break."

Plattner has not yet spoken with Levine, though architects for both projects met last Friday in New York. The ski resort, Plattner insists, will only enhance the allure of Parrot Jungle. "We're going to have a tropical rain forest. We could feature a few birds in there from Parrot Jungle," he ventures. "And of course we would heavily cross-promote with them. I'm not here to compete with anyone."

He hasn't yet spoken with any elected officials, either, though he says he has a good excuse. "I'll admit I'm having trouble figuring out who is in charge down there," he chuckles. "Suarez was the mayor and he knew about the project. Now your Mayor Carollo looks like he's going to be there for a while, and I've made an appointment to see him on Thursday [April 16]."

Carollo, who hasn't viewed the promotional video, says he is concerned about the height of the domes, but adds that he's keeping an open mind. "I believe that downtown needs another attraction for tourists," says the mayor. "I welcome a new idea and will certainly listen to any proposals."

Plattner wants to break ground on Mt. Miami as early as next year, an accelerated timetable that Stierheim finds unrealistic. The project would face design reviews and possibly a referendum, Stierheim cautions. But Plattner is in a hurry. "It sounds funny -- and it is pretty funny -- but the idea is to submit Mt. Miami for the year 2001 snowboarding world championships," he says, not joking. "It's totally possible. Granted, this is not a real mountain, but there are things snowboarders can do on our 'halfpipe' that they can do on any real mountain. This is going to be a world-class snowboarding facility.

"And if they do select it for the world championships," he adds gamely, "we just happen to have a hotel there as well.

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