After city commission approval in June, last week voters approved the development of possibly the most Miami of Miami projects yet: SkyRise Miami. The $430 million development by Jeff Berkowitz features a 1000-foot, hairpin-shaped tower, an observation deck, a ballroom, a moving movie theater and a nightclub -- plus two built-in thrill rides. The tower will sit at the end of Bayside Marketplace on leased city-owned land - and it's this last point that has one detractor very concerned.
Berkowitz invested $30 million of his own money into the project, and he plans to finance more than half of its development through foreign investment via the EB-5 visa immigration program. This grants green cards to overseas investors who put between $500,000 to $1 million in U.S. projects. Berkowitz also claims that city investment in the project will be recouped through an anticipated 3.2 million visitors to the site annually. Coconut Grove architect Charles Corda has countered that he has “serious concerns about [the project’s] viability on two counts: the number of visitors and the basic economics.” Corda has done some interesting calculations on population “capture rates” of similar iconic structures, which makes for entertaining reading at the Biscayne Times. By way of comparison, the Empire State Building receives around 3.5 million visitors a year.
For the record, Corda states that he’s not opposed to an observation tower development in Miami per se, “However, I do object to the proposed SkyRise tower and possible future casino being constructed on publicly owned land.” Berkowitz dismisses criticism, insisting the project with be a resounding success. The observation tower will afford views from South Miami to the Everglades, and for the adventurous there are, of course, the rides. The SkyRise Drop will allow visitors to “base jump” from the skyscraper “attached to a high-speed controlled-descent wire.” The SkyPlunge will lock visitors into a harness to free fall 50 stories before screeching to a halt.
Berkowitz now hopes for an opening date of mid-2017, and the Arquitectonica-designed building will strive for LEED Gold certification. The building has also been designed to withstand hurricane-force winds, but it does look precariously close to the shoreline. Berkowitz states, “Miami is probably one of the most exciting places on Earth,” so he felt it was the only possible location for the tower. “Miami is a world-class city. And I think an iconic structure downtown will firmly cement Miami on the global stage,” he said upon hearing of the approval. “It’s going to be Miami’s Eiffel Tower.”
Images by SkyRise Miami