From today's Miami Herald:
Indoor skiing spot planned
A group wants to build an indoor snow mountain, and the proposal is for the site of the failed Biscayne Landing.
BY ELAINE WALKER AND NADEGE CHARLES
North Miami's former Superfund site has already been the Bermuda Triangle of failed dreams, but that isn't stopping another group of dreamers from trying again.
Anyone for downhill snow skiing in South Florida?
The latest idea calls for transforming the site once planned for the luxury community of Biscayne Landing into an entertainment park with an indoor ski slope and a winter playground.
The Solar Mountain project would be powered largely by renewable energy, and the centerpiece would be a ski slope, similar to Ski Dubai.
Trying to make it a reality is a group of South Florida businessmen with no development experience and plans to finance the $300 million venture through private investors. Two of the members of the team have connections to North Miami Mayor Andre Pierre; one is his former law partner and the other his former campaign manager.
``This is going to be a state-of-the-art facility like South Florida has never seen before,'' said Marc Douthit, a Miami lawyer who is president of Solar Mountain Management Group and the mayor's former law partner.
``This concept is no riskier than anything else out there,'' he said. ``Worst-case scenario, people should give us the opportunity to fail. What do they have to lose?''
Solar Mountain Management Group has been selected as the leading bidder to acquire the note on the 193-acre North Miami site from Wells Fargo, trustee for the holders of the commercial mortgage-backed securities. Biscayne Landing owed the Wells Fargo group $196.3 million, but sources say the buyers may be paying no more than $30 million.
The land is adjacent to Oleta River State Park and Florida International University's North campus.
The Wells Fargo group is one of two major lenders that launched foreclosure actions last summer against the project after Boca Developers, a Deerfield Beach company that was in charge of Biscayne Landing, defaulted on its loans.
Douthit and Willis Howard, the mayor's former campaign manager, teamed up with Norman Canter and Richard DeVries, owners of Renaissance Tennis Management -- an offshore company that manages tennis players. Canter says he brought in Douthit and Howard to help his vision become a reality because of their knowledge of the city.
Despite his relationship with Douthit and Howard, Pierre doesn't see a conflict.
``I didn't make any calls; I didn't lobby for anyone.'' Pierre said. ``People always have the impression that you're doing something shady or under the table. Nothing here is questionable.''
Plans call for other amenities at Solar Mountain beyond the ski slope. Among the possibilities being debated are an indoor ice skating rink, winter kid's playground, snowboarding, indoor tennis center, white-water rafting, surfing, electric car racing, shops, restaurants and more.
This isn't the first time the idea of an indoor ski slope has surfaced in Miami. Developer David Plattner pitched the idea many times in the late 1990s. But it never got off the ground.
Some real estate industry experts believe the concept of an indoor snow mountain has validity for South Florida. But they're not convinced a group with no proven track record in the development or entertainment industry can pull it off.
``There's a lot of difference between having an idea and somebody that can actually do it,'' said Jack McCabe, a local real estate analyst. ``While the project has some interesting aspects, I just don't see how feasible it is. We've seen a lot of gradiose ideas in Miami, but very few of them come to actual fruition.''
The biggest obstacle: funding.
``You've got to have an enourmous amount of equity,'' said Lew Goodkin, a South Florida real estate analyst. ``You're not going to get any lenders excited about it.''
After meeting with the principles of Solar Mountain, North Miami Councilman Scott Galvin isn't convinced they can secure the necessary funding. ``They didn't have any specifics put together yet on where the money is going to come from,'' said Galvin, whose district includes Biscayne Landing. ``All I got was a superficial conversation on the theme.''
The tract that was planned for Biscayne Landing has had a checkered past dating back to a 1960s proposal for Interama, a futuristic theme park. The only things that happened were a dump and the first two condo buildings planned for Biscayne Landing.
Douthit and others have had preliminary discussions about renegotiating the lease. The original Biscayne Landing lease required the developer to pay more than $50 million to cover off-site city improvements, an Olympic training facility, library and more.
``The biggest hurdle to get over is the city,'' said Norman Canter, the visionary behind the project. ``We can't do the project the way the lease is. if they can renegotiate [it] everything falls into place, the money and all the pieces of the puzzle.''
Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/04/30/1605223/indoor-skiing-spot-planned.html#ixzz0mcPVV4SS