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Jungle Island wants to build a kid-friendly hotel. Is it enough to convince voters?

Rendering of a proposed family-friendly hotel at the current site of the parking garage on Jungle Island. The park will seek the city of Miami's approval for a referendum that could go to voters in August.
Rendering of a proposed family-friendly hotel at the current site of the parking garage on Jungle Island. The park will seek the city of Miami's approval for a referendum that could go to voters in August. Jungle Island

In the nine months since Hurricane Irma shuttered Jungle Island, its new owners have dreamed up a new plan for their upcoming action/adventure park. Their latest proposal includes a re-imagined 13-story hotel where the park's parking garage currently sits, a development they hope voters will approve as early as August.

On May 24, Aventura-based ESJ Capital Partners, which bought the park last year, will present Miami commissioners with plans for a 300-room hotel built over a new parking garage to be built on the site of the current garage. According to the park's lease with the city of Miami, which owns Watson Island, Jungle Island can build a hotel on the 18.5-acre property — as long as voters approve of it via a citywide referendum.

This is the second time the park has approached the commission about a hotel. A plan proposed last year called for a boutique hotel in partnership with an “eco-adventure” hotel brand. It was ultimately shelved due to opposition from Venetian Island residents.

In its new iteration, the plan calls for a jungle-themed, family-friendly hotel. A rendering shows a long hotel sitting on a raised platform — the parking garage — that has been camouflaged to look like part of the landscaping around the building. The 13-story hotel is draped with vegetation.

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Rendering of a jungle-themed hotel that Jungle Island is proposing. The hotel would be 13 stories high with 300 rooms. Jungle Island

The project will be privately financed by ESJ. Once the hotel opens, Jungle Island plans to pay the city of Miami $250,000 a year in hotel rent for the first 36 months. However, if the hotel's gross revenue reaches a certain figure, which has not been disclosed, the minimum base rent would rise to $1.15 million or 5 percent of total gross revenue, whichever is greater. The park currently pays the city more than $500,000 in annual rent for its Jungle Island facility.

Jungle Island will also contribute $700,000 for maintenance repairs at an adjoining park, Ichimura Miami Japanese Garden, and donate $500,000 to a low income housing fund.

"Our goal is to continue to enhance entertainment options for residents of the city," said John Dunlap, CEO of Iconic Attractions and president of Jungle Island. "There are very few family attractions for a city as prominent and significant as Miami on a world scale."

Dunlap also hopes the project will prove popular with cruise lines as a place they can house travelers before and after sailings.

According to Dunlap, the park has been designed with its neighbors on the Venetian Islands in mind: The hotel is oriented so that the thinnest and lowest part of the structure faces the nearby residences. The park also wants to use water taxis to transport visitors to Jungle Island's dock, reducing traffic on the MacArthur Causeway.

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Rendering of a proposed hotel on Jungle Island at Watson Island. Residents on the Venetian Islands are concerned there is not yet enough information on the project for voters to make a decision. Jungle Island

But residents on the Venetian Islands are not yet convinced.

Adam Koffler, chair of the 1000 Venetian Way Condominium Association's Jungle Island Committee, said the group has been in touch with Jungle Island about its plans but feels the park hasn't been transparent enough about what it's planning. Does it meet the proper zoning requirements? What facilities will be in the hotel? How does noise play a role? Though the park plans to minimize congestion on the MacArthur, that solution doesn't necessarily address the concerns of residents on 1000 Venetian Way, who use the Venetian Causeway.

Dunlap said the referendum is just to approve the preliminary plans for the hotel and those other details, including permitting, will be ironed out in the coming months. The completion of the hotel is still years off, he said. But Koffler feels voters will not have enough information when they go to the polls on Aug. 28.

"We are not obstructionists, sincerely," Koffler said. "We are here to ensure that the development is properly planned, that the public process is followed, to enable the public to be fully informed and to be sure the city knows what it's going to get."

Koffler is also concerned about how the developments at Jungle Island, including the park and the hotel, will impact the future makeup of Watson Island.

According to Dunlap, Jungle Island, which was named Parrot Jungle when it debuted in its original Pinecrest location, will be a family-focused adventure park. By the end of the year, the park will add a tree walk village where guests can walk in the tree canopy, a new kids playground and education area, a trampoline park, a new restaurant with a FlowRider, a surfing simulator, and zip lines. Next year, it will debut a man-made Crystal Lagoon. The park is expected to reopen by Memorial Day weekend for guided tours to VIP guests.

Its neighbors on Watson Island have for years been seeking to renovate or expand, plans that are still in the works.

Nearby, Turkish developer Mehmet Bayraktar is moving forward with the long-stalled plans to build a $1 billion yacht marina and resort project after a March court victory against the city of Miami. Miami Seaplane Base plans to open the first phase of its project, a new hangar and terminal, by late 2019 or early 2020 — though the plan is subject to approval from the city. Miami Children's Museum is undergoing renovations and also still seeking approval to expand to a 1/2-acre parcel of land in front of the museum.

Koffler worries what all that development will mean for nearby residents.

"The city should look at it from a macro stand point to see what the cumulative impact is of adding a hotel and an amusement park," he said.

He is also concerned about Jungle Island's financial struggles under previous ownership.

"What we don't want is the continuation of another Jungle Island that has been supported by taxpayers and essentially has been a failed development," Koffler said.

Chabeli Herrera: 305-376-3730, @ChabeliH
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