Call it retail-tainment. Just don't call American Dream Miami a mall.
Developers are proposing a massive 6 million-square-foot project on the edge of the Everglades in bustling South Florida that would dwarf any other shopping mecca in North America, including Minnesota's Mall of America.
Miami-Dade County officials could vote this fall to approve it, despite some criticism that it will worsen the region's already choking traffic problem and might produce mostly low-paying jobs. In general, malls across the U.S. have been in a slow decline as shoppers flock to the internet.
Don Ghermezian, president of developer Triple Five Worldwide Group of Edmonton, Canada — which also built Mall of America — said this is not your father's shopping mall. In addition to millions of square feet of retail, the project would include an indoor ski slope, a water park, a submarine ride attraction, a skating rink, 2,000 hotel rooms, theaters, a performing arts center and places to eat and drink.
The idea, Ghermezian said at a recent public hearing, is to give millions of residents and tourists in the Miami area a family-friendly alternative to Orlando attractions such as Disney World and Universal.
"We are not mall developers. That's not what we're trying to build," he said. "A lot of it is 'retail-tainment.' What we're trying to create is an economic engine."
Miami has trendy South Beach and miles of sunny beaches, the vibrant Wynwood arts district and the Everglades for nature lovers but has never had a major attraction like other Florida cities. There's the Seaquarium with its 50-year-old orca, Lolita, and places such as Jungle Island, the zoo and Monkey Jungle. Yet no large theme parks have ever located here.
Triple Five predicts American Dream would draw 300,000 visitors a day and create about 14,500 permanent jobs. Politicians are lining up in support.
Many malls around the country are in decline. Faith Hope Consolo, chair of retail, marketing and sales at Douglas Elliman Real Estate in New York, said the retail world is "moving toward entertainment and creating experiences." She said Triple Five's plan in Miami has an excellent chance of succeeding.
"What's on the way out are the tired strip malls that haven't been updated in 30 years," Consolo said. "What's in are beautiful shopping complexes, entertainment destinations. What's going to work in the future is the focus on experience, one-of-a-kind places where you want to go."