Miami Beach gives initial green light to new convention center hotel plan

July 2, 2018   |   Miami Herald

BY KYRA GURNEY

Miami Beach gave an initial thumbs up to the newest proposal for a convention center headquarter hotel, the city's third attempt in recent years to select a design capable of winning voter approval.

On Monday, the City Commission unanimously voted to allow city staff to negotiate a lease for the hotel, putting in motion a process that developers hope will culminate in a proposal on the November ballot.

The new design, unveiled in late June, features a 185-foot tall, 800-room hotel connected to the Miami Beach convention center via a pedestrian bridge. The facade includes a 53-foot podium containing parking, meeting spaces and ballrooms — a design developers said was an effort to keep the front of the building consistent with the height of neighboring structures. Two taller wings of hotel rooms stretch behind the podium. The hotel roof contains solar panels and water absorption components, features designers hope will make the building more resilient to the effects of climate change and hurricanes.

In response to concerns raised about previous proposals, the new hotel would be roughly 100 feet shorter than the previous plan, include approximately six times more space for cars to queue on the property, and wouldn't impact the Fillmore Miami Beach at Jackie Gleason Theater, which would remain at its current location. (An annex building at 555 17th St. would be torn down.)

Although commissioners were not voting on the specifics of the design, which will be discussed at a later date, they largely praised the plans.

“I think this is a very evolved and informed project," said Mayor Dan Gelber. "I think our job is to give our voters the best possible version of this thing so that when they look at it they can make their decision."

Developers Jackie Soffer, of Turnberry, and David Martin, of Terra Group, said they plan to hold numerous public meetings to discuss the design. On July 25, the City Commission votes on whether to place the proposal on the November ballot. That date is the commission's last scheduled meeting before the county deadline to put measures on the ballot.

"This is the start of a process of working with the city, working with the community, and we're committed to working with them to see this through," Martin told the commission.

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The proposal was the only bid submitted in response to a request for proposals Miami Beach issued in May. The developers, who submitted their plans under the name Miami Beach Connect, worked with Miami Design District developer Craig Robins and architecture firm Arquitectonica. They estimate that the hotel would cost between $348 million and $362 million to build, but aren't asking the city for capital contributions.

There are still some potential sticking points. Commissioner Michael Góngora raised concerns about the number of hotel rooms, which he said could be a hard sell for residents, who rejected previous proposals because of concerns over size and potential traffic congestion. "We're going to have to do a better job of explaining to residents who ultimately vote on this why this is a better project," Góngora said.

The date of the referendum is also up for discussion. Commissioner Mark Samuelian said that while he supports the proposal, he thinks the city would have a better shot at securing the approval of 60 percent of voters — which is the minimum required to authorize the project — if the referendum were held next year.

"We need a convention center hotel. We build hotels all the time and this is the hotel that would do the most public good," he said. But, he added, "60 percent is a very difficult threshold."

William D. Talbert III, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, urged commissioners to move ahead with the 800-room project, which he argued addressed the concerns raised in previous iterations. He said the bureau gets daily phone calls from meeting planners asking about a convention center hotel. "It's the meeting planners who are asking for this. All of our competition has that amount or higher," he said, referring to the number of hotel rooms. "Let's complete the job. We've been doing this for 15 years."

A city evaluation committee gave the proposal high marks when it was unveiled on June 21. City Manager Jimmy Morales recommended the commission authorize city staff to begin negotiations.