Real Estate

Massive Miami Worldcenter Project Passes Key Commission Vote

It took more than six hours, a frantic round of last-minute backroom negotiations, and dozens of speeches from backers and lobbyists, but the massive Miami Worldcenter project passed one of its last remaining roadblocks at the city commission last night.

The commission eventually voted 4-0 to approve key zoning agreements for the $1.5 billion project to create an oasis packed with condos, shops, and dozens of bars and restaurants in an impoverished block of land just west of downtown.

Here's what you need to know about the newest megaproject set to transform downtown.

What is this Worldcenter exactly?

Imagine the Shops at Midtown Miami on steroids, plunked a few blocks from AmericanAirlines Arena, wedged between North Miami and Second avenues and 11th and Sixth streets. Developers promise a massive mall, luxury hotels, and towering new condos and have indicated as many as 25 bars and clubs could pop up in the space. Its planners promise a "dynamic urban core of diversity and excitement."

If you prefer your urban planning with a heady dose of dubstep, this video tour of the project is for you:

What was the commission arguing about last night?

As such a colossal project, Worldcenter needs special zoning. A number of objections to the project came up last night, but the biggest wrench in the system came, surprisingly, from Commissioner Keon Hardemon.

You'd think a project with this many well-paid lobbyists would have dotted its i's and crossed its t's long before such a key vote, but Hardemon threw the night into chaos by trashing the number of local jobs. The vote was saved after an hour of behind-the-scenes negotiating between the commissioner and the project's attorneys that apparently netted pledges for more local jobs and higher wages.

Who will actually build Worldcenter?

This is one of the great remaining unanswered questions. Critics at the meeting, such as Grand Central owner Brad Knoefler, hammered developer Nitin Motwani over accusations leveled by Al Crespo among others that the whole project is just a giant real-estate flip.

Motwani admits he and his team will flip parts of the huge deal to other developers, but tells the Miami Herald his team will play a key role in developing at least some of the project.

Isn't Commissioner Marc Sarnoff too cozy with the project?

Motwani wasn't the only subject of ire last night. Sarnoff has also been the target of strong accusations over the project -- again, from Al Crespo and activist Grace Solares among others -- for allegedly taking money from the developers for his foundation and because his wife works for a real-estate firm tied to the project.

But Sarnoff beat back those complaints last night, saying he has no direct benefits from his foundation's work and denying that his wife's employer, Cervera Real Estate, had any concrete plans to work with Worldcenter.

What's next?

With the zoning approval in hand, Worldcenter now has to put together a detailed game plan for how to build the project and submit it to Miami Planning Director Francisco Garcia.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink

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