Triple Five Worldwide & American Dream Miami Mega Mall – Good Thing?

Developer Triple Five Worldwide is trying to bring the largest mall in the country to South Florida. Triple Five is responsible for creating the Mall of America, which is actually the top tourist destination in the Midwest. According to the figures on their website, the location draws more visitors than Disneyland, the Grand Canyon, and Graceland combined.

While many malls across the country are struggling with the impact of the internet and the economy, consumer spending at Mall of America is 52% higher than the nationwide average. This is an amazing statistic! It points to an interesting trend in the US – If you want to get people to shop away from a computer keyboard, entertainment has to be a critical component.

I have worked with some interesting mall projects over the years to see this trend first hand. I designed the audio and video for Christ Fellowship (the country’s 15th largest church) in a Boynton Beach location that was previously a Dillards Store. A coffee shop creates the gateway into the facility from the mall itself. This is a win-win, because they drive foot traffic as an anchor tenant.

Another interesting series of projects as Mall anchor tenants was for Latitude 360, a brand currently creating multi-function entertainment venues across the US. I created the technology master plan and have handled the design for six venues. Three were in malls. The win-win concept was similar.

Anchor tenants need to draw foot traffic. With competition for shopping dollars by internet retails like Amazon and entertainment brands like Disney and Universal, the bar is set high. Where some see problems, others see opportunity. In both of the cases above, new anchor tenants are sparking new life into once declining properties and re-vitalizing entire developments.

This is clear indication that branding and strategy are such a critical piece of development. In both cases above, the pile of bricks that made the physical structure changed far less than the concept and strategic focus. The saying might be “location, location, location”, but without a solid strategy, that location will eventually decay.

At the moment Mall of America creates (by Triple Five’s estimate) more than $1.9 billion in annual economic impact. What’s interesting about this is that so much of the revenue comes from out of state visitors. This is a mall that is actually a tourist destination.

Aside from the operational economic benefit, the 200-acre project is expected to bring 25,000 jobs and a $4B construction budget. That’s billion; with a “B”.

The company has already cleared several hurdles, including securing sale of 80 acres surplus state land, securing school board approval to purchase 45 acres (in exchange for $7.25M to lift the lease hold), and more recently, state approval for 82 acres at a cost of $12.3M. The overall site is supposed to be about 200 acres in total, with the remainder coming from private owners, mostly developer Graham Companies.

There are several opponents to the project. Some are opposed to the development from an infrastructure and governance perspective. The most vocal opponents of the project are probably from competitors Sawgrass Mills and Aventura Mall, which would be close neighbors.

The top two primary arguments being leveraged by competitors are that the jobs created will be lower paying jobs and that the mall will cause traffic issues. Sawgrass Mills, notably, has added exponentially added to South Florida traffic problems The SaintPetersBlog had the most interesting comment about this irony:

Consider it a little like Pepsi and Dr. Pepper joining forces to ban Coke, simply because it is a sweet, sugary drink. Clearly, there is one word for this: competition … stiff competition.

Traffic problems are certainly an issue in South Florida and they are set to get worse over the coming decade, but this is somewhat independent of the tenant and more a result of the influx of intended buyers from Brazil, Columbia, Argentine, Canada, and Europe. It’s hard to drive growth in an economy without people literally being able to drive there.

On the jobs side, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has said that “Everybody is focused on high paying jobs. Not everyone is qualified for them. Twenty-thousand jobs are twenty-thousand jobs”. While assuredly a calculated statement, it’s hard to argue with the logic.

This is amidst a backdrop where Genting retracted its Miami plans for the world’s largest casino and David Beckham was unable to win support for his soccer stadium. While a soccer stadium has the potential for international attraction, particularly from Brazil, this was also at a time when there was still significant frustration in the air regarding the political approvals for Marlins Stadium.

Either way, if the new Mega Mall brings new jobs and an influx of visitors, I personally see this as a very good thing for South Florida. What do you think?

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