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Genting proceeds with scaled-back plans in Miami

KUALA LUMPUR/MIAM (Mar 23): Though denied a speedy path to a casino licence in Florida, Genting group is proceeding with plans to build a luxury mixed-use development on its bayfront property in Miami, albeit a scaled-back version of the original US$3.8 billion (RM11.7 billion) plan.

In a statement dated Wednesday, Resorts World Miami (RWM), a unit of Genting Malaysia Bhd (GENM), said its architect is preparing a "revised design" that would include condominiums, waterfront restaurants and related amenities. And instead of four hotel towers with a total of 5,200 rooms, RWM mentioned only one five-star hotel without specifying the number of rooms.

"The mixed-use development will occupy the five-acre site currently occupied by the Miami Herald building, inclusive of an 800ft waterfront promenade along Biscayne Bay," the group said, adding that the "updated design for RWM" would transform the bayfront land GENM bought last May "into a downtown focal point and pedestrian-friendly" gathering place.

The scaled-back plans came six weeks after hopes of legalising Las Vegas-style gaming in Florida were dashed. A bill, which would have paved the way for up to three casino-resorts, was pulled last month following wavering support from Florida law-makers. Expectations are that the bill will be reintroduced next year.

Apart for the five-acre site, the RWM statement made no mention of plans for the rest of some 30 acres GENM had amassed in Miami the past 11 months.

Besides the 13.9-acre site that houses The Miami Herald's headquarters for which it paid US$236 million, GENM also bought rights to the 650,000 sq ft Omni Mall site, which its officials said can easily be convertible into a gaming-cum-leisure facility.

Original plans for RWM  included two condominium towers with 1,000 units, a 700,000 sq ft convention centre, shopping space, 50 restaurants and nightclubs covering about 10 million sq ft on the land it bought on May 27, 2011. The project's largest hotel was to have 2,000 rooms, reportedly making it 25% bigger than Miami's current leader, the Fontainebleau Miami Beach. The third and fourth floors had been staked out for a casino.

There's no telling how much of the original renderings — fish-shaped buildings with breezeways and a 3.6-acre beach and swimmable lagoon — would be kept in the revised plan.

Bernardo Fort-Brescia, co-founder and principal of Miami-based architecture and planning firm Arquitectonica tasked to come up with the revised plan, said "the new design for Resorts World Miami will bring to life one of Miami's most underutilised pieces of waterfront land after decades of inactivity".

"With more and more people travelling to downtown Miami and a growing number of residents calling the area home, we are going to seize the opportunity to convert this prime piece of bayfront land into the centrepiece of a thriving neighbourhood," Fort-Brescia said in the statement.

New renderings for RWM "will be available in 30 to 60 days", Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff was quoted as saying by The Miami Herald.

During meetings with Genting, Sarnoff was reportedly told the project would include a pedestal with two or three towers on top. But the design would not include the futuristic look of the original project with irregular shapes designed to resemble a coral reef, the report read.

"I am expecting to see a lot of rectangles with some architectural nuance to it," Sarnoff said. "You could build the fish with casino gambling, because gambling allows you to do anything. It covers up all your mistakes. I like to see people build efficient buildings. These buildings will work across the board. They're coming back with a footprint that is more germane for the way things get built in Miami," Sarnoff told The Miami Herald.

"The project will be within the scale of what currently exists in the downtown Miami's luxury hotel and condo market," Tadd Schwartz, a spokesman for Genting Florida was quoted as saying in the same report.

Genting is reported expected to continue operating the existing hotel at the Omni Centre and leasing the remainder of the vacant office space on the site. The Miami Herald is scheduled to move to a new site by May 2013, the paper said.

Whatever the case, Genting group chairman Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay had maintained that Miami, like New York, are seen as "strategic opportunities" for the group. Genting officials had previously said construction works in Miami would be fast-tracked with a casino licence and may be phased out as long as 20 years, if feasibility studies demand it.

By moving ahead without a casino licence for now, RWM said it "is reaffirming its commitment to downtown Miami's emergence as one of the world's fastest growing residential markets and tourist destinations". By doing so, the group may be looking to capture a burgeoning demand for luxury downtown abodes.

Some 93% of the nearly 23,000 condominiums built after 2002 are occupied, The Miami Herald reported, citing findings from a study by the Downtown Development Authority. It added that only one-third of these condominiums are occupied by full-time owners while the rest serve as rental apartments.

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