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Blockbuster's Proposed Sports/Fun Park Is a Real Nightmare Scenario : Florida: Those living nearby worry that the development will increase traffic and noise while lowering property values and further degrading the Everglades. Promoters say it will provide 16,600 full-time jobs and $64 million in taxes.

July 24, 1994|CATHERINE WILSON | ASSOCIATED PRESS

MIRAMAR, Fla. — When Wayne Huizenga looks at his 2,500 acres on Interstate 75, he envisions a billion-dollar wonderland--sports arenas, a theme park, studios, theaters and so much more, "an entertainment attraction like no other anywhere in the world."

When Faith Wagner looks at the same parcel, she sees a nightmare.

Wagner's new home is just an interstate, four streets and a canal away from where Huizenga plans to build Blockbuster Park, Florida's biggest tourist attraction since Walt Disney World.

She doesn't like the idea--and she's not alone.

She and others worry that the park will increase traffic and noise while lowering property values. Some question the extent of public funding for the project and fear it will destroy the environment--the park would be built on the edge of the Everglades--and lead to water shortages.

Nonetheless, the video-store magnate's blockbuster vision is likely to become reality. He has spent an estimated $30 million so far and pushed through state legislation creating a special district for the park, giving the company broad powers, including taxation, tax-exempt bonding and eminent domain.

Many are awed by Blockbuster's vision of an economic powerhouse: The park would provide 16,600 full-time jobs and $64 million in annual state and local taxes, according to a report by a Blockbuster consultant.

"We worship the god of growth in Broward County," said Patti Webster, executive director of the Environmental Coalition of Broward County. "I think the handwriting is on the wall. We're just groping to mitigate the damages."

And Faith Wagner is in a position to witness those damages up close. The Wagners, refugees from the wreckage of Hurricane Andrew, chose their home in part for the development's peacefulness and nighttime tranquillity.

The family spent 20 noisy months in an apartment between two fire stations waiting for their house to be built. And then Blockbuster Park, popularly known as "Wayne's World," looked to move into the neighborhood.

"It's not at all what I envisioned when I put my money down," she said. "I don't see how you could have a hullabaloo across the street and have it still be quiet here."

Huizenga's hullabaloo would include:

A 45,000-seat domed baseball park for his Florida Marlins; a 20,000-seat hockey arena for his Florida Panthers; a theme park; movie, music, TV and radio studios; an outdoor marine stadium, a virtual reality amusement center; facilities for golf, tennis, roller-skating and youth sports; movie and dinner theaters; shops, restaurants and offices.

Details are fluid; plans won't be submitted to a regional planning council until September.

But opponents are not waiting to see the final proposal. They have formed Residents Against Wayne's World, a pithy RAWW for short, in hopes of blocking or restraining the development.

They fear traffic congestion, noise and creeping commercial development akin to the neon strips of Orlando and Kissimmee outside Walt Disney World.

They note hidden costs, including public ownership of the stadium and arena, and a $42-million federal grant needed to build highway interchanges.

In addition, the project is creating a high-profile environmental tug-of-war between development and preservation.

The property straddles the Dade-Broward county line, on the eastern edge of a five-mile wide corridor between Interstate 75 and the two-lane U.S. 27, the edge of the preserved Everglades. The Dade portion is proposed for a water well field, one of few open spaces left to supply drinking water to the region.

"You can't have wells and Wayne's World on the same site and have clean water," said Joe Pogdor of Friends of the Everglades. He calls the proposal "the poster child of the failure of the Clean Water Act."

A land rush already is transforming the area from wetlands into sprawling tract-home communities. The Blockbuster Park land itself has been designated for more than 4,000 houses.

James Blosser, newly appointed president of the Blockbuster project and Huizenga confidant, contends the entertainment complex would be "environmentally friendlier" than housing.

For Blockbuster, the environmental stakes have been raised by the Clinton Administration's new policy emphasis on preserving the Everglades.

America's largest wetlands, the Everglades is a shallow, 35-mile wide body of water that flows 75 miles from Lake Okeechobee to the southern tip of Florida. Home to thousands of species of wildlife, the Everglades has been described by experts as the world's largest and richest marshland.

But environmentalists contend that fertilizer-tainted agricultural runoff from sugar cane fields and other farms has polluted the Everglades, creating algae blooms, choking off native plants and causing dramatic declines in bird and marine life.

Federal biologists are pushing to buy and restore wetlands in the Blockbuster Park corridor as a buffer between development and the sweeping expanse of shallow Everglades marsh.

"Rather than losing more--chops here, chops there--we need to reverse that whole process of picking away at what's left," said John Ogden, an Everglades National Park wildlife biologist working full time on restoration projects.

But many assume the project will go through in some form because of Huizenga's clout as Ft. Lauderdale's leading citizen.

Optimistically, Blockbuster hopes to speed through the regulatory review stage by 23 local, state and federal agencies and begin construction within 14 months.

"Given that so many politicians around here are in favor of it in the name of jobs and tourism and family entertainment, I don't think they're looking at the cost," said Bill Jones, a RAWW activist.

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