Miami commissioners to consider Magic City Innovation District project in Little Haiti

A proposal for an ambitious, $1 billion real estate development project that would spread out over seven city blocks in Little Haiti is scheduled to be heard by the Miami City Commission’s Planning and Zoning Board on Thursday.

The Magic City Innovation District proposal was scheduled to be heard at two previous meetings, in September and November of 2018. But the hearing was twice deferred twice by city commissioners, who argued the backers of the project had not conducted proper community outreach with the residents of Little Haiti and incorporated their feedback into their plans.

The $1 billion Magic City Innovation District would stretch across 17 acres and include a combination of residential, commercial, office and entertainment spaces. The development, which is projected to take 16 years to complete, would be built across 33 parcels of abutting land that are currently vacant or occupied by crumbling warehouses.

A Special Area Plan (SAP), a sub-category within the Miami 21 zoning plan approved in 2009, allows developers with nine or more contiguous acres to build structures of greater height and density that exceed the area’s existing zoning requirements.

In exchange, the developers must provide amenities for existing residents such as public spaces and road improvements.

The trio of Miami-based real estate firms behind the Magic City Innovation District — Plaza Equity Partners, Dragon Global and Metro 1 — argue their project will be an economic boom to the impoverished Little Haiti neighborhood, which has a poverty rate of 46 percent (higher than the City of Miami’s 30 percent).

An economic impact analysis submitted to the city on Nov. 15, 2018 claims the Magic City project will create 584 short-term construction jobs annually, generating $520 million in wages.

The analysis states that Magic City, which will include market-rate residential units, workforce and affordable housing, hotels, tech firms and a pop-up theme park designed by Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté, will create 11,680 direct and indirect full-time jobs, which would generate $640 million in employment and operating expenditures. Some buildings would go as high as 25 stories.

But many Little Haiti residents and business owners fear a project of the size and scale of Magic City will inevitably drive up property values in the area and displace many of the people who already live there.

Thursday’s hearing is expected to be contentious, with activists and residents asking the commission to defer its decision until the community benefits for Special Area Plans are more clearly laid out.

But James McQueen, chief of staff for Commissioner Keon Hardemon, who supported the previous deferrals, said he expects the proposal will be heard in tomorrow’s meeting.

“When a commissioner sits in on a planning and zoning item, in a lot of ways they are sitting as a judge,” McQueen said. “The fairest thing for the community is for the Commissioner to hear what the public and the petitioners have to say in a public forum, before the other board members.”