Miami Beach voters will soon decide whether the city should lease land across from City Hall for development of a headquarter hotel for the soon-to-be-renovated convention center.
At Friday’s Miami Beach Commission meeting, commissioners voted to send two items to the electorate this fall. In addition to the convention center hotel, voters will for the first time consider a zoning increase for a swath of beachfront property in North Beach — a much-discussed and divisive land-use issue that has preservationists crying foul over hasty development on one side and a developer and supportive residents welcoming a chance to revitalize the neighborhood on the other.
Convention Center Hotel
As the city negotiates a guaranteed maximum price for the renovation of the Miami Beach Convention Center, officials insist that the renovation needs to come hand in hand with building a headquarter hotel next door.
Portman Holdings has proposed a 300-foot tall, 800-room hotel for the site at the corner of Convention Center Drive and 17th Street, behind The Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater. City officials say the hotel will allow the Beach to attract big conventions and, therefore, big money.
The sole no vote on the dais, Jonah Wolfson, said he didn’t believe a traffic study that predicted traffic would not significantly worsen. He believes the hotel will create an influx of cars.
The other commissioners accepted the study and reasoned that the hotel would allow Miami Beach to adjust its booking policy to shift toward hosting more conventions rather than consumer shows, which attract a lot of day trips in cars. The thinking is the hotel would lodge convention-goers, who park, walk around and ditch their vehicles during their stay.
The lease will return to the commission Sept. 2 for a second reading. Then the matter will be decided at the ballot box in November.
According to the city, the rent paid to Miami Beach during the course of the 99-year lease is estimated to total about $74 million. Officials project $253 million in total tax revenue during the lease.
“This agreement ensures that the Miami Beach Convention Headquarter Hotel will bring significant economic and community benefits to the city of Miami Beach,” said Jack Portman, vice chairman of Portman Holdings and John Portman & Associates.
City commissioners approved a height increase for a group of beachfront properties between 75th and 73rd streets known as Ocean Terrace, as well as sending a question to voters on an increase in zoning.
In a 6-1 vote, with Micky Steinberg dissenting, the commission favored an overlay district in that area that would allow higher building heights and higher floor area ratio, which is the square footage of the building divided by the square footage of the lot. The ratio (FAR) increase for the residential and hotel portions of the project needs approval from voters in a referendum.
The proposed change stems from developer Sandor Scher’s desire to build a hotel and condominium project with 70 residential units and 220 hotel rooms. According to former Miami Beach Mayor Neisen Kasdin, an attorney for the developer, Scher has pledged to to preserve two historic hotels on that land — the Days Inn & Suites and the Ocean Terrace Hotel.
“This is a very specific two-block neighborhood that by any objective measure is in distress and needs help and needs revitalization,” Kasdin told the commission Friday.
He noted that Scher would keep the commercial FAR to one to make sure that the commercial part of the development planned for the Collins Avenue side would not become a large destination retail complex, and he pointed to other recent concessions made by the developer to appease the city’s planning staff and residents.
Some residents favored some recent changes to the developer’s plan, but they spoke out against the ratio change and said they’d rather wait for a city-appointed firm to develop a master plan for all of North Beach before considering such an increase.
Resident David Golomb said taxpayers should not have to worry about a developer’s bottom line.
“It’s not our job as residents of North Beach to ensure that Mr. Scher not lose money on his investment, nor, I hasten to add, is it your job to ensure Mr. Scher make a profit,” he told commissioners.
If voters approve, the commission will consider the item for a second reading Dec. 9.
Steinberg said that while she likes that voters will decide, she could not support it on principle.
“I understand developing Ocean Terrace is needed,” she said. “However, for me philosophically on this, and I do believe that Sandor is going to be great and do a great job, on first reading I cannot support this.”
They said it
“I really do believe it’s very big, but I’ve also sat through two of the best real estate cycles I’ve ever seen in my adult life, and no one touched Ocean Terrace. And that gave me great angst that without some change, no one will ever touch Ocean Terrace.” — Commissioner Deede Weithorn, on why she supported the Ocean Terrace item.
You said it
“They’re going to preserve a nice chunk of that block, and we really thank them for doing that.” — resident Marguerite Ramos, on the developer’s promise to preserve two historic hotels on Ocean Terrace.
The next meeting
▪ When: 8:30 a.m. Sept. 2
▪ Where: 1700 Convention Center Dr., third floor