David Beckham's downtown stadium is dead in the water, but Miami's second-most contentious bayfront proposal is very much alive and kicking. Developer Jeff Berkowitz's 1,000-foot tall paperclip, the SkyRise Miami tower, could be on a ballot for city voters as early as August.
But first the city commission has to green light Berkowitz's plans along with a potentially even riskier proposal: giving the nearby Bayside Marketplace a new 99-year lease in exchange for promises to turn the decaying tourist trap into a modern attraction.
Berkowitz has pitched SkyRise as a new centerpiece tourist draw for Miami-Dade, a soaring, singular tower that would be part Eiffel Tower and part Space Mountain. The structure would be topped with an observation tower offering views to the Everglades and Key Largo, while a 570-foot bungee jump and 650-foot drop ride would plunge down the sides. There would also be high-end restaurants and a video simulated thrill ride.
The developer says he will privately finance the $400 million project, but he needs the 1.85 acres of city-owned land behind Bayside to house it.
The proposal going to the commission today ties that plan in with a new lease agreement with the adjacent Bayside. If you haven't been lately, you're not missing out on much. Just take it from Commissioner Marc Sarnoff.
"It's not even second-class condition now," he tells the Miami Herald this morning. "My paramount concern is that we see a significant change in the capital infrastructure and maintenance of Bayside, because it needs a lot."
To that end, the proposal calls for Bayside's operator to spend at least $22 million improving the space; the city would also up its rent from $1 million annually to $2.6 million, plus a one-time $10 million payment to the city.
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There are a few glaring question marks in the deal, and the biggest by far is Berkowitz's projections that within a few years the tower would begin bringing in millions of tourists and nearly as much revenue as the Empire State Building. As critics like Al Crespo have pointed out, that's a mighty rose-colored view of how the public would respond to the project.
There's also the more down-to-earth concerns of whether a gigantic paperclip could withstand a hurricane (Berkowitz says architects have repeatedly tested the design in hurricane-force winds and found it sturdy) or whether its financing could fall victim to Miami's inevitable boom-and-bust cycle.
But unlike Beckham's plan, the tower seems to have support in the commission. Don't be surprised if Miami voters will be casting ballots later this summer on whether 560-foot bungee jumps belong on Biscayne Bay.