Miami Beach

Miami Beach Convention Center hotel sites proposed

A hotel for the Miami Beach Convention Center could take the place of City Hall or the 17th Street parking garage near Lincoln Road.

City staff has proposed those sites, along with the convention center parking lot and behind the Fillmore Miami Beach at Jackie Gleason Theater, as potential locations.

Miami Beach hopes to start a $500 million renovation of its convention center by 2016, and officials want to add a nearby hotel to make the event space more attractive for out-of-town groups, or those looking for cheaper options.

Commissioners are scheduled to discuss the site options at 9:40 a.m. Wednesday. The meeting will take place in the commission chambers, which are on the third floor of city hall, located at 1700 Convention Center Drive.

City Manager Jimmy Morales said the hotel plans are in the “very preliminary” stages, but staff wants direction from the commission because the hotel location could impact the convention center renovation.

The city wants an 800-room hotel that is easily accessible to convention-goers, built in such a way and in a location that makes it easy to get to surrounding attractions, such as Lincoln Road Mall.

“If we’re doing the convention center, we have to do a hotel, because all of the experts worldwide say that people who come in for these trade shows and conventions typically want to be close or on site,” said Commissioner Ed Tobin.

Each proposed location comes with advantages and drawbacks.

Building on the City Hall site would obviously mean Miami Beach would have to find a new place to conduct business. Alternate locations for City Hall haven’t been publicly discussed.

Turning the vast convention center parking lot into a hotel site would provide the most space for the hotel. But it could pose parking problems — especially during construction. It may also eliminate any hope for incorporating a new park into a renovated convention center campus.

Building the hotel on the site of the 17th Street garage could also lead to parking problems, or a delay in construction if the city has to build a replacement garage before work on the hotel can get started. That location also may require a public-private partnership of the type commissioners recently rejected when they quashed the previous hotel plan. On the other hand, a hotel on that site would provide easy access to Lincoln Road and Soundscape Park.

Commissioner Deede Weithorn said she favors that location because it would funnel people to nearby attractions, making it an attractive place to stay even when conventions aren’t in town.

“I think the ability of the building to function on its own is equally important,” Weithorn said.

A hotel behind the Jackie Gleason Theater would take away some of the theater’s practice space. But Mayor Philip Levine said he favors that location because a covered walkway could connect the hotel and the convention center — which is important, given South Florida’s hot, wet weather.

The height of the new hotel could range from 325 feet at the 17th Street garage, to 225 feet on the convention center parking lot or behind the Gleason theater, according to a city presentation.

City leaders have not discussed whether the new deal would involve leasing public land, or who would pay for what portions of the project.

“At this point, it’s really undetermined,” Levine said.

Shortly after the November election, a mostly new commission scrapped a previous plan to allow a private developer to build a hotel into and on top of the convention center. The developer, who would pay market-rate rent to lease the city’s land, would have also built the convention center renovation. In all, the project was expected to cost about $1 billion, split roughly between the public and private builders

Weithorn suggested a lease could still be involved, and that impact fees paid by the developer could help pay for the cost of replacing any city buildings that would need to relocated to make room for the hotel.

Still, Commissioner Jonah Wolfson, who has opposed building a new hotel, said the city is handling the deal differently this time around. After commissioners quashed the previous deal, they split the project into two distinct parts: a convention center renovation and the addition of a hotel. The city has also nixed plans for allowing a developer to build shops and restaurants, thereby reducing the amount of public land leased to private business.

“Is it the same boondoggle deal? No. It’s a lot more straightforward and simple,” Wolfson said.

The city has already selected a firm to design preliminary plans for the convention center renovation. Next, the city will pick a builder to finish the drawings and construct the project. Levine said he hopes work on the hotel and convention center can happen at the same time.

The city hopes to release a bid for hotel developers by spring 2015.

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