A proposal by casino giant Genting to build a possible 300-room hotel on the site of Miami-Dade’s Omni bus terminal has cleared a big hurdle, winning the unanimous approval of the county commission’s transportation committee for a 90-year-lease of the public property.
Genting’s Resorts World Miami, whose efforts to build a massive casino resort in the Omni district have been stalled for years, was the sole bidder on a county request for proposals to redevelop the open-air bus terminal and refurbish the adjacent Metromover station.
The redevelopment site, totaling just under one acre, includes Northeast 14th Terrace, a one-block-long street that would be permanently closed. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said in a memo that the deal with Genting would generate nearly $55 million in rent and revenue-sharing for the county over the life of the lease.
The Genting tower would rise over a rebuilt and expanded ground-level bus station with air-conditioned passenger waiting rooms, a significant improvement over the existing bare-bones terminal, where only slender canopies protect users from the elements. The tower would include retail shops on the ground floor. It lies within walking distance of the highrise Hilton Miami Hotel.
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As part of the deal with the county, Genting would also renovate the Metromover station, which is connected by a skybridge over Northeast 15th Street to the old Omni mall, which the casino moguls also own. Gimenez put the value of the transit improvements at $22 million.
Although Genting and the county say the proposal outlines a hotel for the site, the agreement gives the company the right to change that to a residential tower or other uses depending on market conditions.
How the planned tower would fit into Genting’s plans for the casino resort is unknown. But the county deal would effectively give Genting control of all the real-estate frontage along the east side of Biscayne Boulevard from Northeast 14th Street to Northeast 17th Terrace.
Genting bought the Miami Herald property directly east of the transit terminal for $236 million in 2011 and announced plans for the colossal casino, but its efforts have been frustrated by the Florida Legislature. In addition to the Omni mall and hotel complex to the north of the bus terminal, the company also owns the historic Boulevard Shops building, which was part of the purchase and is being converted into a lavish restaurant, immediately south of the bus hub.
“The Adrienne Arsht Center Metromover Station is a critical mass transportation hub in the center of our prized Downtown Miami property and is in desperate need of revitalization,” Michael Levoff, senior vice president for public affairs at Genting Americas, said in an emailed statement Friday. “Assuming approvals are granted, the station will be modernized and improved with private funds from Resorts World, creating hundreds of construction jobs in the process.”
Genting at one point said it would retool its resort vision to drop the casino and focus on resort hotels, but the company never filed plans with the city. Is is, however, pursuing plans to build a 50-berth yacht marina along its bayshore property. The company also says it invested $30 million in renovations to the Hilton hotel at the Omni.
Earlier this year, Genting officially called it quits at PortMiami, where it once ran a ferry to its resort in Bimini. The company agreed to pay $20 million to Miami-Dade to cancel its terminal lease at the county-owned port.
Genting’s bus-terminal proposal came in response to a bid request from the county transit agency, which has been pursuing the redevelopment of parking lots at several of its Metrorail stations into mixed-use, transit-oriented projects. The goal is to boost train and bus ridership and reduce automobile dependency by clustering people around transit hubs, while providing the cash-challenged agency a new revenue stream from rents.
On Thursday, transportation committee members lavished praise on the Genting proposal.
“I don't think as a commissioner it gets better than a situation like this, where we have a commitment and the partnership is there,” said Miami-Dade Commissioner Sally Heyman. “What you have is … a win-win-win for the county that wants to get transit projects going. … This is exceptional.”
Under the terms of the deal, county transit chief Alice Bravo told commissioners, Genting must start construction within four years. The agreement goes to the full 13-member county commission for approval in April.
Neither bus nor Metromover transit service will be interrupted during construction. Genting will provide a temporary bus terminal on one of the adjacent former Herald parking lots, but the existing Metromover station will remain open throughout.
The new bus station, to be built by Genting, would be integrated into the hotel tower. It would occupy the ground level at the tower’s foot under the hotel’s pool deck, according to conceptual renderings of the project submitted by Genting. The station would expand from its current 10 bays to 16 bays, including several that can accommodate the agency’s new articulated Metrobuses.
According to Gimenez’s memo, the project would create 1,871 jobs during construction and 171 jobs on site after completion of the hotel.
Herald Staff Writer Douglas Hanks contributed to this report.