Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado hasn’t seen them. Neither has Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.
Nearly six months after the Genting Group failed to get legislative approval for a massive destination casino resort on the downtown Miami Herald site, both mayors are among the many who said they have heard nothing from the Malaysian company about its scaled down vision for a project without a casino.
Speaking publicly for the first time since the legislative defeat, Genting executives told the Miami Herald they remain committed to Miami and are slowly moving forward with a plan that could be presented to the city later this year or early next. Preliminary plans call for a luxury hotel with fewer than 500 rooms -- about one tenth of its original proposal -- plus two condo towers. The total space devoted to restaurants and boutiques would be no more than 100,000 square feet, or about the size of a small department store.
Genting is vetting about a dozen luxury hotel brands that have expressed interest in the project; once a flag is chosen, the plan will move forward, said Christian Goode, president of Resorts World Miami.
The hope is to start demolition in May 2013 when the Herald vacates the bayfront land it now occupies. Genting paid Herald parent McClatchy Co. $236 million for the 13.9-acre site in 2011.
Gone -- at least for now -- are the grandiose development plans for a $3.8 billion resort with 5,200 rooms.
“We’ve listened and we’ve heard what people said,” Goode said. “This will complement the existing downtown skyline. We want to make sure we put a project forward that everybody is happy with and that adds value to the city of Miami.”
But design changes may not be enough. Genting still needs to mend fences in Tallahassee, where it has appointed has appointed veteran Republic lobbyist Brian Ballard to lead its Tallahassee team and and is funding the study of a potential voter referendum on whether casino gambling should be allowed. And it has yet to quell concerns from local politicians like Regalado, who says he no longer favors the project he once supported.
“They probably thought if they offered jobs and economic development, that would be a deal that nobody could reject,” Regalado said. “I guess they were shocked they could not get what they wanted. It’s not going to be a free ride from the city. They have to really show this project is what the area needs.”
There’s no doubt Genting arrived in the U.S. intent on taking advantage of the struggling economy as it sought to expand its international gaming operations.
The promise of multi-billion dollar investments and hundreds of new jobs was supposed to rally support for destination resort casinos. Initially, the strategy seemed to work in both Florida and New York. But Genting’s plans in both markets have hit a wall, and some observers say the perception lingers that Genting is out of touch with U.S. politics.
“They were bullies who thought they could buy their way in,” said Chad Beynon, vice president and senior gaming analyst for Macquarie Capital. “They missed the mark in how they viewed the government’s needs and what the people want.
“Genting wants to be a major global player, but it’s just going to take time for people to accept them as one,” Beynon said. “They don’t have the brand recognition of an MGM, Bellagio or Wynn.’’... People know what they’re getting with those brands. With Genting it’s still an unknown player.”