Jungle Island's fate in commission's hands

Commission to vote in eight days

By Glenna Milberg - Reporter

MIAMI - Miami city commissioners are skeptical of a request to give Jungle Island operators more land and more time to help the attraction pull out of the red, even under threat of defaulting on a loan.

"I'm always prepared to do for the best for the city of Miami," said Commissioner Willie Gort on Wednesday.  "We're doing all the analysis, all the research."

The city has already covered more than half of Jungle Island's $25 million federal loan, secured with city and county backing, for its move from Pinecrest to Watson Island.

With a $2 million federal loan payment coming due in August, owners approached the commission with an unnamed investors offer to pay off the loan, but in return for taking over more Watson Island land, and doubling its lease to 99 years.

"In order for it to be sustainable going forward, the project has to be further developed as more of a destination and less of a regional attraction," Jungle Island representative Brian May told commissioners Monday.

Left unspoken was the expectation of the possibility of expanded gambling opportunities.

Commissioner Marc Sarnoff challenged attraction owners to present their vision more clearly.

"I think it's really incumbent upon you all to tell us why it is your Plan A is better than Plan B," he said.

In advance of their June 28 vote on how to proceed, city staff are looking into options that would be more profitable to the city.

"To figure out if there are any hotel developers, other developers that could take on the debt," said Commissioner Michelle Spence Jones.

What was once known as Parrot Jungle became an institution over the decades while located in Pinecrest.  But with the move to Watson Island, it has failed to attract profitable numbers and relies on catering business now to boost its numbers.

Tourism leaders are at a loss to explain Jungle Islands business failings.

"There are other tourist attractions in this community that are doing very well," said William Talbert, head of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau. "Tourism is at record levels."

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