Miami-Dade County

Miami commission approves downtown expo center, hotel

The Miami City Commission unanimously approved plans for a downtown convention center and 1,800-room hotel Thursday on the site of the old Miami Arena.

The commission’s approval of MDM Development’s $600 million Marriott Marquis Miami World Center clears an important hurdle for the developer, which can now pursue permits and tax rebates, and push to break ground before the end of the year. The privately financed project has been long-desired by downtown business boosters, who say a convention center will help flush businesses, restaurants and hotels with customers.

“This is symbolic of how we will now compete against the convention centers all over the nation,” said Commissioner Keon Hardemon.

Smaller convention centers, that is.

While the project, designed by Nichols Brosch Wurst Wolfe & Associates, includes 350,000 square feet of meeting space, larger gathering areas are limited to a 100,000-square-foot exhibit hall, a 60,000-square-foot ballroom, and a 40,000-square-foot junior ballroom, which are stacked in three tiers. That’s part of the reason Miami Beach officials, who are redeveloping their larger facility in South Beach, are welcoming the new convention space into downtown as complementary rather than competitive.

“It pales in comparison to the size of the Miami Beach Convention Center exhibit space, but for us it’s very large,” said architect Bruce Brosch.

MDM needed the commission’s approval for the project Thursday because the design violated certain aspects of Miami’s zoning code. Commissioners granted exemptions that allow the developer to build out the expo center over most of the 4.7-acre site, and allow the 54-story hotel to be built as designed atop the pedestal.

The developer now will look to negotiate with the Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency for rebates from the property taxes it generates to help finance the convention center operations. Attorney Tony Recio said the rebates are “very important” for MDM.

Following the hearing, Recio deferred questions about tax rebates to land-use attorney Javier Fernandez, who said he wasn’t authorized by MDM to speak about the negotiations. Fernandez later said through an MDM spokesman that the property could generate as much as $7 million in property taxes, but after one preliminary meeting with the CRA it was too early to release details about tax subsidy discussions.

Clarence Woods, executive director of the CRA, did not respond to an email and voice message left at his office.

Last month, the Daily Business Review reported that Fernandez, on behalf of the developer of the Miami Worldcenter, submitted figures showing Worldcenter would generate $22.4 million in property taxes, of which $15.3 million would be returned annually to the CRA and developer. MDM has a contract to purchase the Miami Arena site with the developer of the Worldcenter.

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