Zoo Miami May Become Part of Larger Tourist Destination

The Zoo Miami Entertainment Area, possibly breaking ground by 2015, could be any combination of attractions, amusements, lodging and conference centers, county officials say.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The Zoo Miami Entertainment Area, possibly breaking ground by 2015, could be any combination of attractions, amusements, lodging and conference centers, county officials say. NBC 6's David Jeannot interviews Eric Stephens, the director of Zoo Miami. (Published Wednesday, Dec 19, 2012)

    Aiming to create jobs and boost the local economy, Miami-Dade County officials want to break ground by 2015 on a multi-attraction destination on land that includes Zoo Miami.

    The proposed development, dubbed the Zoo Miami Entertainment Area, could be any combination of attractions, amusements, lodging and conference centers, food service and specialty-themed retail and banquet halls, officials say.

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    “We have an opportunity to create our version of Universal Studios Orlando,” said Miami-Dade County Commissioner Dennis Moss.

    The idea hasn’t been fully developed. But officials said the grounds should combine existing county venues -- Zoo Miami at 12400 SW 152 St. and Gold Coast Railroad Museum at 12450 SW 152nd St. -- with new venues, all of which would be on or adjacent to the zoo.

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    “We’re looking for ideas and for interested parties in developing some kind of theme park, movie studio, or whatever, down around the zoo area,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

    Eric Stephens, the director of Zoo Miami, stood on the grounds Wednesday and envisioned the potential of the property.

    “Well we’re standing in what we call our west parking lot,” Stephens said. “This is one of the parcels that’s available for development. We have not been specific about what might go here. We’re hoping to hear some exciting plans.”

    Moss added: "The idea is to create theme parks, water parks, downtown Disney, CityWalk type of venues.”

    The county has started accepting proposals from developers, locally and nationwide, to negotiate a deal for such a destination. The project ultimately could grow to encompass nearly 400 acres, officials say.

    “We’re putting an invitation to bid that will ask these groups to put together a plan for 168 acres that we own -- and the possibility of maybe even expanding to another 200 acres that are federal government owned at this time,” Gimenez said.

    Among those involved in the effort are the county’s parks, recreation and open spaces department and the Zoological Society of Florida. The county may get money through leasing and license agreements, partly requiring whoever occupies the public land to pay rent for its private use.

    Gimenez said taxpayers wouldn’t foot the cost of the project.

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    “This is totally a public-private partnership,” he said. “It wouldn’t cost the taxpayer of Miami-Dade County anything. It would enhance Miami-Dade County in terms of economic development, in terms of another attraction that would bring more tourists and also would be something that our residents can enjoy.”

    Developers are expected to submit proposals before May next year.

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