Miami Beach commissioners voted to seek new proposals for a Miami Beach Convention Center hotel — and soon. The new design could come before voters as early as November.
On Wednesday, the Miami Beach City Commission voted unanimously to issue a Request for Proposal — known as an RFP — inviting developers to submit designs and bids for a convention center headquarter hotel. They opted to build it on the same site as a 2016 hotel proposal that failed to pass with voters. The new hotel would be about one-third smaller than the previous design.
Commissioners also voted unanimously to get the winning proposal — if possible — on the November ballot. The short time frame, they argued, is necessary to get a hotel component up and running as soon as possible. The renovated convention center reopens in September.
"Once it opens, I think there is going to be a major public clamor for the hotel," said Commissioner Ricky Arriola. "It's going to be a gaping hole not to have this. I would like to see a hotel happen sooner rather than later."
For years, tourism leaders have argued that Miami Beach, though a premier destination for meeting planners, lacked an adjacent convention center hotel that catered to convention attendees. Of the top 30 U.S. convention destinations, Miami Beach is one of four that do not have a headquarter hotel. Two of the others, in Fort Lauderdale and Los Angeles, are in the process of developing a hotel. The third, New York City, benefits from considerable nearby hotel inventory.
At the commission meeting Wednesday, William Talbert III, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the city has missed out on nearly $200 million in economic impact from conventions that chose not to hold their meetings in Miami Beach in the two yeas since the last headquarter hotel proposal failed.
In that iteration, Atlanta-based Portman Holdings proposed a 25-story, 800-room hotel that would rise 288 feet behind The Fillmore Miami Beach at Jackie Gleason Theater. That hotel, at the northeast corner of 17th Street and Convention Center Drive, would have been privately financed and included 320 on-site parking spaces. But though the project was approved by 54 percent of voters, it failed to reach the required 60 percent super majority needed to pass.
At the time, the hotel’s size, design and potential impacts on traffic were major sticking points for opponents.
Commissioner John Alemán said Wednesday she feels the new parameters set forth by the commission will address those concerns — just enough to help the referendum reach 60 percent approval.
"I believe we are on the right track," she said. "Our voters are educated about this initiative and project and I think they will be very happy to vote for it knowing that they were heard, knowing that we addressed the height, the number of rooms and the design."
Under the new parameters, the commission is seeking a proposal for a hotel on the same 2.55-acre site as the last proposal, but with a smaller hotel on the property. Here are the details:
▪ The hotel will be built on a surface parking lot adjacent to the convention center. The area includes a building at 555 17th Street that is an annex of the Gleason theater building; the annex will be torn down.
▪ The hotel will be no taller than 185 feet, or about 36 percent smaller than the hotel proposed in 2016, and it will have between 550 and 800 rooms.
▪ The project will be privately financed by the developer. The hotel lease will also call for allocating a majority of rooms for convention center events.
▪ The hotel will include a sky bridge to directly connect it to the convention center.
▪ There will be no gambling in the hotel property.
The commission rejected a prior proposal to develop a 6.4-acre site that includes the Gleason theater and would call for tearing it down and rebuilding a new state-of-the-art theater in a new site.
"Putting that [theater] parcel in the mix might spell doom for this project," said Commissioner Michael Góngora.
But not everyone is convinced the commission is doing everything to mitigate voter concerns with its chosen hotel project parameters.
Paul Freeman, a member of the mayor's ad hoc Blue Ribbon Steering Committee on the Convention Center Hotel, said at the commission meeting that he doesn't feel the new parameters eliminate the traffic concerns that plagued the previous project.
"Part of the reason for including the Gleason is that you're able to create a traffic flow," he said. "If you don't come up with a traffic plan or something involving traffic ... I think you're doomed to failure."
Others voiced concern about how quickly commissioners are hoping to put the project on the ballot. With the November ballot deadline, developers will have only 30 days to submit proposals. Still, commissioners expect to receive several offers. In April, the commission received an unsolicited proposal from Matthew Southwest Hospitality and Preston Hollow Capital, which it ultimately declined, but commissioners said it showed there's interest in the project.
If the winning proposal makes it onto a referendum on the ballot in November, it could join at least one other major referendum: a general obligation bond that would likely fund between $300 million and $500 million in projects on the Beach.
Commissioners worry that several large initiatives could cause ballot fatigue, making it more difficult for the hotel project pass.
They will have until July 25 to make a final determination as to whether the hotel proposal will be on the ballot on Nov. 6, or at a later date.