Jungle Island Dreams

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Jungle Island: What happened to grand transformation?

Includes updates with Jungle Island responses. 1:25 p.m. 
By John Dorschner 
        On Sept. 11, 2014, Jungle Island announced a massive transformation to spend tens of millions to "elevate" 
the struggling theme park into "an iconic landmark for eco-adventure."
    A year later, none of the much-acclaimed high-end changes have come to pass.

      In a midday email, John Dunlap, Jungle Island's president, said he had made several improvements -- including ballroom and beach upgrades -- but none were the big-ticket items that he emphasized a year ago.
      Here's what this reporter wrote for Biscayne Times' October 2014 issue: "The changes are definitely happening, Dunlap insists. The new beach area and the orangutan restaurant will be 'done by the first quarter, come hell or high water,' he promises. The costs for all the changes he is talking about will run into 'the tens of millions.' Dunlap says most of this is already funded."
Thinkwell, a California consulting company came up with his design for Jungle Island's new entrance.
       The Miami Herald ran the planned make-over on its front page headlined: "Jungle Island plans giant transformation."
        A meandering waterway was meant to be deepened so people could swim in it or drift along in inner-tubes, part of "a series of pools, waterways, falls and other aquatic adventures," including "snorkeling, swimming 'with' tigers or simple lazy swimming, all under the peruse of the local wildlife," according to a press release.

One of the animal shows at the present Jungle
      A first-class restaurant was to be built overlooking the orangutans. Cabanas would be placed near the front entrance and the beach. Kids could zoom along on overhead zip-lines. A high-end "destination" type restaurant, serving craft beers, was planned near the entrance to attract visitors from nearby downtown Miami and South Beach. 
          Mid-day Wednesday, Dunlap stated in an email that he's been hard at work updating the park: 
          "After refurbishing the Treetop Ballroom and its adjacent meeting rooms, we focused on our new private beach concept, Parrot Cove, which is now complete and has been a Jungle Island fan favorite all summer long.
           "It was important to us that we create a remarkable experience in this location before moving to the next phase of our master plan," Dunlap wrote. "Parrot Cove features new chaise lounges, private cabanas, tiki bar offering food and retail items; along with new water-based adventure activities including the seasonal Rainforest Riptide obstacle course, and jetpacks and flyboards through our valued partnership with AquaJet Miami.
          "For the convenience of our park guests, we also added food & beverage options, including the new Bait Shack at Parrot Cove, and the repositioning of our main food outlet at the entrance of Jungle Island, now called Island Burger. For the weekend crowd, we introduced the Bayfront Esplanade, a convenient venue in front of the Serpentarium where park guests can order an ice-cold draft beer," Dunlap wrote.
          The Orangutan Restaurant, which was originally to be finished in the first three months of 2015, "continues to be a high priority and is in Phase II of the plan," Dunlap stated. 
                                "Considering Options" in June 

      In June, Miami Web News reported that Jungle Island owner Bern Levine was "considering options," including selling the park. "We hired an investment bank months ago seeking partnerships."
    For that June report, Dunlap issued a statement that after the announced transformation, "the natural evolution of this process is to bring in equity capital partners along with the existing ownership to help invest in these future plans. ... At this time, nothing yet has been formalized." 

                                    HUD: No New Reports
     Jungle Island was built on Watson Island with the help of a $25 million loan from U.S. Housing and Urban Development,  with the promise that it provide 603 jobs, many of them for low-income workers in nearby impoverished areas.                                
        In 2012, HUD received a report that Jungle Island employed only 431. In 2013, Dunlap took over, slashing staff and out-sourcing many jobs.

    In email last week to Miami Web News, Gloria Shanahan, HUD spokeswoman in Miami, said her agency hasn't received any more recent report on the Jungle's employment status.
     Dunlap responded Wednesday afternoon: "The reality is that with the redevelopment of Jungle Island over the next several years, we will be creating many new jobs that will support the transformation of our landmark attraction into a world-class destination."
     The HUD issue is critical because, as Miami Web News has reported in other stories, there's a severe shortage of affordable housing in Miami, and the federal agency's budget has been reduced in recent years.

No comments:

Post a Comment