Miami Beach voters to decide on new convention center hotel plan

July 25, 2018   |   Miami Herald

By Kyra Gurney

The future of Miami Beach’s convention center hotel is once again in voters’ hands.

On Wednesday, the City Commission approved a development and lease agreement with the developers behind the newest plan for a Miami Beach Convention Center headquarter hotel and voted to put the proposal on the November ballot. This is the city’s third attempt in recent years to find a design residents will support.

The newest proposal features a 185-foot tall, 800-room hotel with two wings of hotel rooms stretching behind a 53-foot podium containing parking, meeting spaces and ballrooms. The hotel would be connected to the convention center via a pedestrian bridge.

The group behind the new plan — Turnberry’s Jackie Soffer, Terra Group’s David Martin, Miami Design District developer Craig Robins and architecture firm Arquitectonica — hopes the latest iteration will address residents’ concerns about size and traffic, which have derailed previous attempts to build a headquarter hotel. Their proposal is 100 feet shorter than the previous plan and creates approximately six times more space for cars to queue on the property. With a hotel, city officials say, the convention center will attract more “fly-in” conference attendees who won’t necessarily need a car to get around, rather than people driving in from nearby areas.

If voters approve the project, developers anticipate that the hotel would open in September 2022, according to information from the city manager’s office. City officials and tourism groups say Miami Beach needs a convention center hotel in order to compete with other convention destinations. The Miami Beach Convention Center is currently undergoing a $620 million renovation, but has lost $130 million in bookings since 2015 because it lacks a headquarter hotel, according to the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“The timing is right, the size is right, the team is right,” said William D. Talbert III, president and CEO of the visitors bureau. “The industry is ready for the new building, for the new hotel.”

According to the terms of the lease agreement approved by the City Commission, the hotel will pay the city either fixed rent totaling $16.6 million over the first 10 years or a percentage of hotel revenue, whichever is greater. The city plans to ask voters whether the guaranteed rent payments should be earmarked for traffic reduction, stormwater or education initiatives. Miami Beach estimates that the city will collect $96 million in taxes from the hotel over 30 years. The city won’t provide any public funding for the project.

“It seems to me we have a great economic component here for the city that’s going to help us accomplish all of our goals going forward,” said Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán.

City commissioners largely praised the project, but commissioners Kristen Rosen Gonzalez and Michael Góngora cautioned that some residents are frustrated with the amount of tourism-related development on the island, which they say brings traffic headaches. While both officials voted in support of the project, they said the city needs to take a look at the overall amount of construction and tourism-related development in Miami Beach.

“That’s really the number one concern that residents have and that I have is do we really need another large hotel? Is this going to pile on a lot of cars back in this area?” said Góngora. “I am concerned for the residents in the neighborhood that have suffered through a lot of construction,” he added.

The proposal has the support of the hotel worker union Unite Here Local 355, which recently signed a labor agreement with the developers. The project will need approval from 60 percent of voters in order to move forward. On the ballot, voters will be asked to authorize the lease of city land — a parking lot adjacent to the convention center — and the construction of an 800-room hotel with a maximum height of 185 feet. The specifics of the hotel design will be evaluated by the city’s Design Review Board at a later date.