Miami-Dade commissioners on Tuesday endorsed letting Genting build a hotel over a Miami bus stop, with a side debate centered on the assumption that the Malaysian gambling giant wants to bring a casino there.
“I am willing to live with a casino there,” said Commissioner Joe Martinez. “Because it is coming.”
Genting’s lawyer said Miami-Dade would need to sign off on any future effort to bring gambling to the 36-story hotel contemplated under the 90-year lease of the air over the county bus station that’s at the heart of the deal. Genting agreed to spend $16 million upgrading the bus stop off Northeast 14th Street, including adding an air-conditioned shelter and turning over a side street it partially controls. Before Genting can start building above the station, it must pay Miami-Dade $10 million in cash.
Martinez and other commissioners hailed the arrangement as a good deal for Miami-Dade, since Genting would provide a dramatic upgrade to the busy bus depot, and take over maintenance expenses for that facility and the nearby Omni Metromover station.
Miami-Dade would be giving up development rights to the one-acre parcel that holds unique appeal to Genting, which owns about 30 acres on adjoining land — including the waterfront former home of the Miami Herald. Genting was the only developer to bid on the land when Miami-Dade asked for offers about two years ago.
After paying $236 million for the Herald land in 2011 and $185 million for the adjoining Omni retail and hotel complex, Genting announced plans to bring a 5,000-room casino resort to the area. It needs a change in Florida law to pursue those plans, and its lobbying effort hasn’t yielded a victory in Tallahassee. It also hopes to bring gambling to the Omni complex under existing casino laws, but that effort also has fizzled.
Locally, Genting assembled an influential team of lobbyists, lawyers and consultants. Al Dotson Jr., a top contract lawyer and lobbyist, made Tuesday’s presentation. Joining him were Jesse Manzano-Plaza, a Genting lobbyist and campaign manager for Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s 2016 releection effort, and Ralph Garcia-Toledo, Gimenez’s volunteer finance chair. Garcia-Toledo said he was hired by Genting this year as the company’s construction manager.
Before the unanimous vote of approval, several commissioners approached Genting’s planned 300-room hotel on county-owned property as a casino-in-waiting.
Commissioner Daniella Levine-Cava tried unsuccessfully to impose tougher approval requirements for Genting to seek county permission to pursue a zoning change from Miami if the company later chose to bring a casino to the Omni complex. Genting’s deal with Miami-Dade has it splitting rental revenue from ground-floor retail space. Commissioner Bruno Barreiro floated the idea of expanding that split to any casino floors Genting might create. “That will definitely pay to expand our transit system,” he said.
Dotson emphasized the sequence of events needed for a casino to go above the bus terminal: a change in Florida law, local approval of a gambling expansion, and then Genting asking Miami for a change in zoning to allow for slots or card games on the site. As the property owner, Miami-Dade would need to endorse that zoning request.
“Then and only then,” Dotson said, “would gambling go on that site.”