Mayor Tomás Regalado’s hefty agenda during his last few months in office grew a little lighter Thursday when Miami commissioners declined to put a proposal to redevelop the Hyatt Regency and James L. Knight Center on the November ballot.
But a referendum to allow a Jungle Island lease extension and resort may yet go to voters.
Asked by city staff to direct the city attorney to draft ballot questions seeking voter consent for bid waivers on lease extensions for the Jungle Island theme park and Hyatt’s convention center hotel, commissioners declined. Among their reasons for balking: The city has yet to obtain legally required appraisals proving that increased payments to the city would return fair market value.
In the case of the proposal to extend Hyatt’s lease by 99 years and expand its property to include the Knight Center, Commissioner Ken Russell argued that the city ought to set aside the the southern half of the convention complex as a riverfront park.
That’s a significant change to the deal discussed so far between Hyatt representatives and city administrators. So while reaching a new contract agreement may still be possible, any attempt to put a deal before voters in November is dead given the tight timeline to submit ballot language to the county Supervisor of Elections.
“We have no objection to continuing the discussion with the Hyatt group,” said City Manager Daniel Alfonso. “My only statement is this wouldn’t be resolved in the next few days.”
Commissioners’ reluctance to have their attorney draft ballot language for a Jungle Island lease extension and new hotel was more symbolic.
Though they deferred a vote Thursday, commissioners told City Attorney Victoria Méndez to go ahead and have ballot language ready anyway for their next meeting in two weeks — when they’ll consider several other ballot measures as well — in case they felt better about the details of a lease extension. The deal on the table would extend the theme park’s city lease 39 years until 2099 and allow the construction of a $50 million hotel.
Based on a draft appraisal of the proposed lease, real estate director Daniel Rotenberg said a new agreement would likely bring the city at least $1.4 million a year — roughly double the $770,000 currently paid by owner ESJ Capital Partners. The new hotel could be up to 300 rooms and 130 feet tall.
But commissioners worried that the city still has work to do in cementing the financial details and vetting the proposal with the public. They also mulled a proposal by Commissioner Keon Hardemon to set aside payments in the new contracts to go into a single-family home rehabilitation kitty for struggling homeowners.
“There’s a lot of blanks left to be filled in here,” said Russell.
Alex Tachmes, an attorney representing Jungle Island, said the hotel and lease extension would be a significant boon to the city on a property and park that for decades have fallen short of expectations in turnout and revenues. ESJ Capital has yet to identify its hotel partner, but says the company is well-known around the world and that ESJ needs to act now or lose the hotel flag.
“This is a home run for the city,” he said. “If we can get this done, this eco-adventure company that is almost on a Disney scale, they want to come here to open an eco-adventure hotel that will blend perfectly with the park. It will make it a destination known to the country and the world.”
The two proposals are just a few of more than a half-dozen that Regalado’s lame-duck administration has hoped to place before voters during the Nov. 7 election. Deals to lease the city’s administrative headquarters to a developer, build a new Rickenbacker marina, and a $275 million general obligation bond issue are still pending commissioners’ blessing to get onto the ballot.
Another potential ballot item — a lease extension of up to 52 years for Monty’s Raw Bar and Marina in Coconut Grove — appeared likely to make the ballot after commissioners applauded the proposed deal Thursday. The agreement with Aligned Bayshore Marina, which has already begun a roughly $7 million renovation project, is expected to pay the city $1.5 million a year starting in 2019.