Developers: 1,800-room hotel, expo center to open in fall 2018

Rendering of the planned Marriott Marquis Miami Worldcenter Hotel & Expo Center.
Rendering of the planned Marriott Marquis Miami Worldcenter Hotel & Expo Center.

The countdown is on to the opening of South Florida’s most massive hotel.

Doors at the 1,800-room Marriott Marquis Miami Worldcenter Hotel & Expo Center aren’t scheduled to open for more than three years, but developers say there’s plenty of work to fill the time between now and fall of 2018.

“This project is so big, it’s got so many moving parts, there’s so many players,” said Joe Herndon, director of development for MDM Group, which is building the project. “All these pieces may have to start before we start breaking ground.”

Herndon and some of those players held an event Tuesday in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood to formally launch the $750 million hotel and expo center, which will be built on the site of the former Miami Arena. The property adjacent to the Miami Worldcenter retail and residential project was first announced two years ago, but some new details — including the planned opening date — were released Tuesday.

The property will include more than 600,000 square feet dedicated to convention needs, including a 100,000-square-foot exhibition hall on the ground floor, a 65,000-square-foot main ballroom, a 1,500-seat theater and 390,000 square feet of other meeting rooms and event space.

“This,” said architect John Nichols, “is a major undertaking.”

Nichols, CEO of architecture firm Nichols Brosch Wurst Wolfe, which designed the project, said the goal is to break ground by the end of the year. Construction will take about 30-36 months, he said.

Tuesday’s event was set at another work in progress: the former Ebenezer Methodist Church, which is being turned into the Overtown Community Center and Miami Dade College Hospitality and Culinary Institute.

Herndon said the hotel plans to hire workers trained at the center. Once the hotel is up and running, it will generate 1,300 permanent jobs, according to the developers. MDM is working with Miami Dade College, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, CareerSource South Florida and other groups to start creating a local pipeline for workers.

With the timeline announced, Herndon said work can begin to start booking events for early winter of 2019.

Thomas Papelian, senior vice president of hotel development for Marriott International, said the Marriott Marquis brand is focused on event and convention business. The other five locations in the U.S. — in Atlanta, New York, Washington, D.C., San Diego and San Francisco — are smaller than the proposed Miami hotel and center.

“We think the Miami market is one that would really support a project of this size,” Papelian said.

Downtown Miami leaders have long pushed for a convention center on their side of the causeways as efforts to renovate the outdated Miami Beach Convention Center, which offers more than a million square feet of flexible space, dragged on for years.

Under current plans, the Miami Beach Convention Center — possibly with an 800-room hotel on site — would be finished by the end of 2018, when the Marriott Marquis is expected to be completed.

MDM and tourism boosters said Tuesday that they don’t see the two sites in competition.

“These are complementary projects,” said William Talbert III, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. “They help each other.”

Herndon said the Marriott center “fills a void” for small and medium meetings and conferences that need a significant number of hotel rooms.

Still unclear is what kind of public assistance the developers will seek as they move forward. Earlier this year, MDM said it might need $115 million in property tax rebates over roughly three decades in order to build the project to the scale it has announced.

Herndon said Tuesday in a statement that the company has not yet determined “whether a public sector contribution, it’s source or amount, will be requested.”

“It is common for a conference center and hotel project on the scale of that proposed by MDM, which generates over 1,300 direct jobs and millions in new tax revenues annually, to have an equitable portion of those future tax receipts reinvested in the project,” he said in the statement. “This is especially true of projects located in areas with blighted conditions that lack private investment.”

Miami Herald staff writer David Smiley contributed to this report.