For months, Miami Beach developer Michael Simkins has been buying up properties around Overtown, tearing down apartment buildings and — in some cases — sparking resident's fury to the point that his construction equipment was set on fire earlier this year. But Simkins' exact plans for those sites hasn't been clear.
Until now. Turns out Simkins wants to use the land in Miami's historically black neighborhood to build a 633-foot "media tower" covered with gigantic LED billboards. Neighborhood preservationists and activists are already crying foul over the plans.
"It's one of the worst projects ever proposed in Miami-Dade County," says Peter Ehrlich, founder of Scenic Miami, a group formed in part to fight gigantic advertising projects. "This is the worst-case scenario we've ever envisioned since we were founded."
The project details, which the Miami Herald discovered in documents filed with the Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency, describe a twisting, ribbon-like tower taller than Seattle's Space needle — and roughly the same height as the St. Louis Arch — with huge LED ads with nearly 85,000 combined square feet of surface area.
Ehrlich estimates that the signs would be visible from miles away. More germane to the project, they'll be impossible to ignore for the tens of thousands of commuters every day on both I-95 and 836. "The proposed LED billboard tower might be visible from 25-30 miles away," he says. "If built, this LED billboard tower would be most visually ugly structure in the State of Florida."
Simkins, who hasn't returned an email from New Times seeking comment on the project, has already run into controversy in Overtown, where his Lion Financial Group has bought at least ten properties. In February, someone set one of his equipment on fire outside an apartment building he'd just demolished. Simkins said the building was dilapidated, but Edduard Prince, a community activist, said residents were fed up with the pending development changing the neighborhood.
"The community is completely frustrated, and the frustration is growing," Prince told New Times.
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Now, Simkins will have another fight on his hands. Ehrlich's group and other activists have long fought attempts to build electronic ads in Miami. The city's code forbids such billboards, but it does have a loophole allowing "media towers" such as Simkins' proposal; however a similar County code outright forbids all such advertising, including media towers.
A fight over the codes last erupted when another developer wanted to build a huge advertising tower near the Adrienne Arsht Center, a plan that was later abandoned.
Erlich says he anticipates a similar fight brewing over Simkins tower — and notes that Simkins' agreement with the CRA even promises to pay for any legal fees stemming from suits filed against the group. "Billboards and LED billboards are illegal under the City of Miami Sign Code," Ehrlich says. "Yes, there was a loophole for a visual pollution tower inserted in the Code a decade ago but it does not supersede the sign code of Miami-Dade County."