BRADENTON, Fla. — Miami-Dade County is looking for partners to develop a multi-attraction entertainment destination to compete with central Florida's mega-theme parks.

International and local developers from the public and private sectors are being sought to negotiate for the opportunity to create the entertainment area on about 400 acres adjacent to Zoo Miami and the Gold Coast Railroad Museum.

Bonds may be considered as part of the financing, according to an invitation to negotiate, which was issued last week.

The zoo, formerly called Miami Metro Zoo, is home to more than 2,000 animals and attracts more than 810,000 visitors a year.

The proposed entertainment area is envisioned to be a collection of various attractions.

County officials said the project is being "vigorously pursued" primarily to spur economic development and job creation.

The project also is expected to expand the visitor market and increase the time visitors stay in south Florida, expand the number of venues in the area, and increase income for Zoo Miami.

"We have an opportunity to create our version of Universal Studios Orlando," said Commissioner Dennis Moss, who is chairman of the oversight board for Zoo Miami.

Zoo Miami is owned and operated by the Miami-Dade County Park and Recreation Department, with support from the nonprofit Zoological Society of Florida.

"Miami-Dade County is on the move to become a place that people repeatedly want to visit and a place where people desire to permanently live," Moss said.

Proposed developments at the property can be any combination of attractions, amusements, lodging and conference centers, food service, specialty themed retail, and banquet halls that meet the project's objectives and comply with existing development approvals.

The county is seeking qualified developers that will independently, collectively or collaboratively negotiate the development of the Zoo Miami Entertainment Area.

The ITN provides the county with flexibility to select local and national developers.

This is "the type of project that has the potential to serve as a catalyst for attracting other types of major investments into the county," said Jack Kardys, director of Miami-Dade Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Director. "This ITN is an aggressive effort to find the best developer able to create a phenomenal-not average-entertainment zone that will become a renowned landmark-attraction."

Kardys said the county wants a design that will be unique to Miami, as well as fun and exciting.

The process for developing the project began in 2002, when the county thought that a water park, family entertainment center, and hotel would be suitable developments near the zoo.

The proposal faltered after the recession and 2008 financial crisis made private financing difficult to obtain.

Two proposers that were interested eventually dropped out.

The current, broad proposal was developed after the county asked for expressions of interest from national and local developers, county officials said.

The proposal provides additional opportunities for attractions and cultural facilities within the entertainment area, allows marketing of Zoo Miami with the entertainment area, and includes opportunities for small developers to compete with master developers.

Developers will be allowed to include provisions for limited public funding by identifying the amount of public debt financing from bonds, grants or trust allocations to complete financing of the project, according to the ITN.

The document did not state how much in public funding would be considered.

Proposers must identify the public agency that would do the financing, as well as how funds would be allocated, and approved.

Costs associated with issuing any debt must also be identified by respondents.

The county will seek reimbursement for some costs it has already incurred for permitting and may seek reimbursement for the purchase of land.

The county expects to enter lease and license agreements though a master agreement that will pay an initial rent, a guaranteed monthly rent, and a percentage of rent for private use of public lands.

The ITN can be obtained at

Proposals are due by April 19.

Submitted plans will be evaluated by a review committee on the basis of approach, experience and qualifications of development, operations, and management teams, financial feasibility and financial capacity of the proposer, and financial return to the county.

The non-financial economic development impact, as well as linkages between the entertainment area and Zoo Miami will also be considered during the evaluation process.

The project site spans 700 acres, on which Zoo Miami occupies a small portion and the railroad museum another.

It is adjacent to a 279-acre U.S. Coast Guard communications facility, which is also available for development, though the county does not own most of the property on the Coast Guard site.

Developers can submit proposals that include plans to acquire the Coast Guard property federal and develop the site as part of the larger entertainment area, according to the ITN. Submitted plans can cover all or a portion of the entertainment area.

Once proposals are submitted, the County Commission will review and make the final selection.

Negotiations with chosen developer will take several months, officials said.

Groundbreaking for the development is targeted to occur in 2015.

"We are positioning ourselves as a dynamic global community that offers more reasons to visit and invest in Miami, and more incentives to live and do businesses here," said Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez. "Diversifying our portfolio of cultural, recreational, and educational offerings is critical to this ongoing effort, and this mixed-use approach to our parks will create a strong range of products for consumers and investors alike."

Moss, whose commission district encompasses the project area, said it is critical that the project provide jobs that will improve the surrounding community.

"The generation of jobs for our residents is what makes this project especially appealing to me and the district I serve, and it is why I am championing it," he said.

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