October 31st, 2015 4:29 PM by Nour Ailan
developer planning a 633-foot observation tower equipped with
electronic murals is moving his plans forward even as the mayor of Miami
talks of slowing him down.
Michael Simkins’ Innovate Development
Group applied this week to Miami’s building department for a permit to
erect five large electronic signs embedded within the skin of the
tower’s twisting facade and mounted along its pedestal. The signs, which
would flash advertisements as well as public art and messages, are as
large as 30,000 square feet and would be visible from Interstates 395
The high-tech tower is envisioned as the centerpiece of a
10-acre technology district around 10th Street and Northwest First
Avenue. Simkins expects to go before the city’s Southeast Overtown Park
West Community Redevelopment Agency on June 29 to finalize a crucial
community benefits agreement that, when last made public, included $5
million in upfront payments to the redevelopment agency and at least $1
million every year after it opens.
“The CRA board has to accept
the benefits [for the project to move forward], but we submitted our
permit because we are looking at a bigger picture,” said Simkins. “We’re
looking at an innovation district as a whole, with 7.4 million square
feet and 13,000 high-paying jobs to downtown Miami. And we’re hoping to
start phase one in June” of 2016.
Simkins stressed that he’s
followed the “letter of the law,” in part because critics have accused
him and the Overtown CRA of quietly negotiating his project for months
without involving the public.
When city commissioners considered
his project in April in their capacity as CRA board members, they
decided that they didn’t need to vote on the tower’s signage and then
deferred a vote on the community benefits agreement. Audience members
weren’t allowed to speak, and left the meeting wondering if they’d lost
their only chance to comment on the project before it was approved.
would seem a moot point now, with Simkins going back to the CRA board
for another hearing. County ethics commissioners began poking around
after receiving complaints but decided they had no reason to pursue the
Still, Mayor Tomás Regalado says he doesn’t believe
the CRA should be given the power to approve a billboard tower.
Previously, a similar project in the Omni area went before the Miami
City Commission. But under Miami law, the executive director of the
Overtown redevelopment agency is tasked with reviewing and approving a
“media tower” in the redevelopment area, and its correlating public
This week, at Regalado’s behest, Miami’s legal staff
released two pieces of legislation that would repeal the laws that place
the authority with the redevelopment agency, and replace it with a new
zoning code that requires city commission approval.
“I think it’s
unfair for the residents, that they won’t be able to participate in
public hearings,” said Regalado, who was accused of fast-tracking the
proposed billboard tower in the Omni several years ago.
glance, though, activists who hailed Regalado in April for his position
on the Innovation Tower are cringing at the legislation. Peter Ehrlich, a
member of anti-billboard group Scenic Miami, said Wednesday after
reading Regalado’s legislation that he worries it would actually allow
for more billboard towers with less scrutiny.
“This legislation is horrible,” he said.
attorneys don’t believe the proposed legislation would even apply to
the project should it be approved, since Simkins has submitted his plans
to the city and the CRA.
City Attorney Victoria Méndez couldn’t
say Wednesday whether she agrees. But in late April, her office issued a
legal opinion stating that Simkins must still receive administrative
approvals for his project, including the approval of a warrant, which
can be appealed.