The developer who wants to build an 800-room highrise hotel next to the soon-to-be-renovated Miami Beach Convention Center has asked city commissioners to hold off on sending the proposal to voters in November.
A deal involving the lease of public land would require approval from 60 percent of voters in a referendum — a vote that proponents have wanted to hold Nov. 3. The city wants to lease the site at the corner of Convention Center Drive and 17th Street, behind the Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater.
Now, developer Jack Portman wants more time to educate voters.
In an Aug. 29 letter to City Manager Jimmy Morales, Portman asked the commission to postpone the vote until March.
“Our enthusiasm to move forward with the hotel is as strong as ever, and we still believe this is a tremendous opportunity for us to work with the city in a way that will be mutually beneficial,” he wrote. “However, several developments have occurred recently that have led us to conclude that postponing the referendum on the hotel until next March will give us a greater chance to be successful in obtaining the necessary vote.”
Portman spent a week in August researching where voters stand on the issue.
The developer paid JB Research, LLC, to conduct 400 interviews with registered Miami Beach voters to gauge awareness of the hotel project, as well as support.
According to the study presented to the city’s administration and commission, 79 percent of residents likely to vote on Nov. 3 are aware of the proposed convention center hotel. On the question of whether they support the plan, 56.5 percent said they supported, 16.8 percent said they weren’t sure and 26.8 percent opposed it.
The developer issued a statement Monday that doesn’t reference the polling data and simply asks for more time to reach voters.
“Portman would like additional time to communicate with the public about the important role the convention headquarter hotel plays in context of the overall plan to redevelop the Miami Beach Convention Center,” reads the statement.
Commissioners are supposed to consider final approval of the proposed lease and language of the ballot question to send to voters on Nov. 3. They will now consider delaying the ballot question until March.
Commissioner Ed Tobin has proposed taking the revenue from the hotel lease, if approved, and putting it toward K-12 education programs in the city, flooding mitigation projects and traffic reduction and underground utilities. He suggested putting it before voters in November, too, in the form of a ballot question.
Those pushing for the long-awaited, $500 million renovation of the Miami Beach Convention Center — tourism officials, the business community, city staff, politicians — consider the hotel a crucial element to the success of the renovated center. The thinking is a headquarter hotel will help attract lucrative conventions.
“Without the hotel, the convention center renovation is a complete boondoggle and waste of time,” Commissioner Michael Greico said. “We need the hotel.”
The convention center re-do is slated for final approval Oct. 21, when commissioners will weigh the guaranteed maximum price negotiated with the contractor, Clark Construction. Officials expect to break ground after Art Basel in December.
Maria Hernandez, project director of the convention center district, is overseeing the renovation project, which is a separate deal from the hotel development. On Monday, she told the Miami Herald that if the hotel plan is delayed, the construction schedules would actually overlap less.
Ideally, the hotel gets approval whenever voters cast their ballots, Hernandez said. But the city believes the renovation must go on, regardless.
If the hotel plan fails at the ballot box, the city would have to alter its marketing campaign and work with local hotels to secure room block agreements to accommodate the kinds of conventions they hope to attract, Hernandez said.
“The city feels pretty secure that the convention center needs to be upgraded regardless of what happens to the hotel,” she said. “So we’re moving forward. We’re not linking one to the other.”