Miami Beach

Will this new convention center hotel plan finally please voters? Here's the first look

Rendering of the new proposed Miami Beach convention center hotel looking east down 17th Street.
Rendering of the new proposed Miami Beach convention center hotel looking east down 17th Street. Miami Beach Connect

Perhaps third time's the charm.

On Thursday, a Miami real estate heavyweight team of Turnberry's Jackie Soffer, Terra Group's David Martin, Miami Design District developer Craig Robins and architecture firm Arquitectonica revealed their plans for a Miami Beach Convention Center headquarter hotel.

Past versions of the project have been mired in controversy. Since 2013, two separate proposals have failed.

Soffer and Martin were the sole bidders for the latest convention center hotel proposal, submitting their plans under an entity named Miami Beach Connect. The City of Miami Beach put out a request for proposals on May 16 with a June 14 deadline — a short timeline to ensure the proposal could go before voters in November.

The bid is sealed until mid-July, but the team presented the details of its hotel plan to a city evaluation committee Thursday morning. The committee gave it high marks.

The new plan envisions a 185-foot tall, 800-room hotel with a roof containing solar panels and water absorption components that is connected to the Miami Beach convention center via a pedestrian bridge. The hotel would be built on a surface parking lot adjacent to the convention center. The area includes a building at 555 17th Street that is an annex of the Fillmore Miami Beach at Jackie Gleason Theater. The annex building will be torn down but the theater will remain in its current location.

Rendering of the skybridge connecting the proposed Miami Beach convention center hotel and convention center. Miami Beach Connect

The facade of the hotel would include a 53-foot podium containing parking, meeting spaces and ballrooms, with two taller wings of hotel rooms stretching behind. The idea, said Bernardo Fort-Brescia, co-founder of architecture firm Arquitectonica, is to keep the front of the building consistent with the height of neighboring structures and push the taller wings as far back from the street as possible.

The proposed hotel also would include gardens and outdoor dining as well as meeting spaces with ample natural light and views of the surrounding area, Fort-Brescia said.

"This is the ambiance that we're hoping to bring and to bring the light and the sun into the property,” he said in a presentation to an evaluation committee made up of city staff and residents. The meeting was held at the Wolfsonian-FIU museum on Washington Avenue.

One key concern raised by evaluation committee members was traffic. Voters have rejected previous proposals due to concerns over size and potential traffic congestion.

The design proposed by Miami Beach Connect and Arquitectonica includes what Fort-Brescia referred to as "an extensive drop-off" area for cars that he said was roughly six times larger than the space allotted in previous proposals. The hotel driveways would also be pushed back as far as possible from intersections, the designers said, in an effort to keep cars leaving the hotel from snarling traffic.

Rendering of the pedestrian experience along 17th Street in front of the proposed Miami Beach convention center hotel. Miami Beach Connect

In essence, the hotel will absorb the queues to enter the property on its first floor. A dedicated space will also be included in the drop-off area for ride-sharing vehicles from Uber and Lyft.

"That is what slows traffic, when they stop at any point in the curb," Fort-Brescia said in an interview. "We have emphasized and given priority to the future, which is the shared vehicular use."

The proposed hotel would also have some built-in protections against the effects of climate change and hurricanes. Its solar panels will connect to a solar battery capable of storing enough energy to power key areas of the hotel during a power outage so the building can remain open in the case of a major natural disaster, said Walter Meyer, the co-founder of Brooklyn-based Local Office Landscape Architecture, which is working on the project.

It will also be lifted from the ground level, Martin said. Water absorption components will collect rain water for use in irrigation, toilets and other parts of the hotel.

And, to sell the hotel to visitors, a large pool deck with landscaping would give guests sunset views of the bay.

"It's a monumental deck that is what you would expect when you come to Miami Beach," Fort-Brescia said.

Rendering of the pool deck looking to the west at the new proposed Miami Beach convention center hotel. Miami Beach Connect

Miami Beach Connect expects the hotel to cost between $348 and $362 million to build; it is not asking the city for capital contributions. The developers have proposed a 99-year lease and said they expect the hotel to generate $10.2 million in annual revenue for the city, which includes taxes and lease payments, by its fifth year of operation.

“We really look forward to partnering with the city. We feel the time is now. We believe in this city and have a lot of passion for what it is ...and also what it can be in the future," Martin said in concluding the presentation. "We hope this project can be a shining symbol of development for the future."

Miami Beach Connect has not yet selected a hotel management company, but the developers said they’ve gotten letters of interest from Hilton, Hyatt and Marriott.

Members of the evaluation committee praised the project and scored it highly. Now Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales will consider the committee's input and make his own recommendation to the Miami Beach City Commission on July 2.

"It was a very highly rated proposal," Morales said. "Obviously that will factor strongly in my recommendation."

If the City Commission approves the proposal, residents will vote on a referendum in November.

Failed convention center hotel plans

After two failed attempts at at a convention center hotel, one in 2013 and one in 2016, city leaders wanted a third proposal that would address prior objections. Over the years, the scale of the headquarter hotel proposal has been reduced drastically to appease residents who are concerned about traffic and the building’s height.

The 2013 plan called for a 52-acre, billion-dollar convention center and hotel complex, but the design proved contentious. Then-Miami Beach Commissioner Jonah Wolfson led a campaign against the project — partially funded by the Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel, owned by Jeffrey and Jackie Soffer, which opposed using public subsidies to fund the hotel. The opposition resulted in a court case that eventually booted the proposal off the November 2013 ballot. The new commission then scrapped the plans.

The effort also created the 60 percent super majority threshold that convention center hotel proposals now must meet to move forward. The commission, then led by former Mayor Philip Levine, promised to get the hotel built, but as a project evaluated separately from the overall convention center renovation. While plans for the convention center's $620 million renovation moved forward — they are due for completion this year — the hotel portion continued to struggle to gain momentum.

A rendering of the Portman Holdings proposed convention center hotel, a 25-story, 800-room hotel that would have risen 288 feet behind the Filmore Miami Beach at Jackie Gleason Theater. The project failed to pass with voters in 2016. Portman Holdings

In 2016, Atlanta-based Portman Holdings proposed a 25-story, 800-room hotel that would rise 288 feet behind the Filmore Miami Beach at Jackie Gleason Theater. The project was approved by 54 percent of voters but missed the 60 percent requirement. At the time, opponents pointed to the height of the building and the potential traffic snarls it could cause as reasons for its failure.

Since then, elected officials, residents and consultants have worked to ascertain reasons for the project's failure. A Florida International University survey found that voters were most concerned about the traffic impact of the hotel, followed by its height and mass. Still, the committee, including opponents of the hotel project, acquiesced that — done properly — the hotel was a necessary portion of the convention center's success.

Competing on tourism

Tourism leaders have pushed for a convention center hotel for years, saying it's a crucial part of making Miami Beach competitive with other cities that meeting planners are also considering for large conventions. Of the top 30 U.S. convention destinations, Miami Beach is one of four that do not have a headquarter hotel. Two of the others, in Fort Lauderdale and Los Angeles, are in the process of developing hotels. The third, New York City, benefits from considerable nearby hotel inventory.

They also feel that a renovated convention center, coupled with a headquarter hotel component, will attract more upscale city-wide conventions from the medical, pharmaceutical and technology industries. Currently, many of the center's bookings come from trade shows that attract day trippers, which create traffic and result in a smaller economic payback to the city.

At a Miami Beach commission meeting last month, William D. Talbert III, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau said the city has missed out on nearly $200 million in economic impact from conventions that chose not to hold their meetings in Miami Beach in the two years since the last headquarter hotel proposal failed.

Construction at the Miami Beach Convention Center in August 2017. The renovation of the center is due to be completed by the end of 2018. Al Diaz

Still, tourism leaders have in the past sought a convention center hotel that had 1,000-plus rooms in order to attract large city-wide conventions. Talbert said in an interview this week that at 800 rooms, the proposed convention center hotel will be able to house nearly 60 percent of the national convention and trade show market.

"Accommodating 60 percent of the business is a very good percentage and we are going to compete," Talbert said.

The team behind the hotel proposal said it may work with some area hotels to create room blocks when there is spillover from the convention center hotel. For instance, the American Health Information Management Association's roughly 4,500-person convention, which will be the first in the renovated convention center this September, has spread its attendees across 19 hotels in Miami Beach.

"The headquarter hotel will, in essence, assure that [meeting planners] will be coming back down the road, and will accommodate the growth that any meeting planner wants to see," said Rolando Aedo, chief operating officer for the tourism bureau.

Talbert said that after reviewing the new proposal, he feels the project has all the necessary components to satisfy voters: The proposed hotel is about 100 feet shorter than the previous iteration. Traffic will queue on the first floor of the building. The design doesn't affect the Jackie Gleason theater, which other proposals considered tearing down and rebuilding. And this proposal comes from a local team.

"I can't see anything left [to address]," he said. "This is completing the job."