Miami Beach

Miami Beach Convention Center hotel vote delayed, probably until March

This rendering shows Portman Holdings’ vision for a proposed 300-foot tall, 800-room headquarter hotel next to the soon-to-be-renovated Miami Beach Convention Center.
This rendering shows Portman Holdings’ vision for a proposed 300-foot tall, 800-room headquarter hotel next to the soon-to-be-renovated Miami Beach Convention Center. Portman Holdings

Officially postponed: The public vote on a lease that would clear the path for a headquarter hotel next to the Miami Beach Convention Center.

At Wednesday’s Miami Beach city commission meeting, commissioners did not consider placing the item on the November ballot.

Developer Jack Portman, who wants to privately finance a $400 million, 800-room hotel that would rise up 30 stories on public land behind The Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater, requested the delay.

The lease would need approval from 60 percent of voters. That hurdle, apparently, looked a bit too tall to clear during the next few months after Portman polled 400 voters in the Beach.

Portman said Wednesday he needs more time to stump for the plan.

“The Miami Beach Convention Headquarter Hotel and Convention Center renovation are critically important to Miami Beach’s position as an international destination,” Portman said. “We want the people of Miami Beach to have ample opportunity to consider the hotel based on its merits and look forward to informing residents about the many benefits of the plan, including the significant revenue it will generate for the city and the exclusive use of private money for its development.”

Portman spokeswoman Kelly Penton said it’s expected commissioners will send the question to voters on the presidential primary ballot, scheduled for March 15.

The commission approved the terms of the lease Wednesday in a 7-1 vote. Commissioner Jonah Wolfson, who has not been shy about his opposition to the hotel, voted no.

Representatives from the the Greater Miami and The Beaches Hotel Association, the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce support the hotel. Proponents insist a headquarter hotel is essential to the success of a renovated convention center.

Mayor Philip Levine said he does not necessarily believe so. Though he voted for the lease and said he favors the hotel, when asked if he would help drum up support for the plan should he be reelected, he did not want to commit either way. He said he wants voters to decide.

“I’m in favor of the hotel,” he said. “But remember, this is a city that happens to have thousands of hotel rooms.”

Commissioners also approved a separate ballot question that would be coupled with the lease item and define where money from rent payments would be spent if the hotel were built.

Commissioner Ed Tobin proposed taking the money, estimated to total about $12 million during the first 10 years of the proposed 99-year lease, and distributing it across four categories of public projects:

▪ Flooding mitigation/stormwater drainage.

▪ Education.

▪ Traffic reduction/transit.

▪ Undergrounding utilities.

“This is a covenant we would be making with our voters,” Tobin said.

Wolfson said he would rather see the money be set aside in case the convention center renovation goes over budget.

“I think it’d be smarter to let the rent be unencumbered,” he said.

Commissioners separated the convention center renovation from the hotel project after the previous plan for redeveloping the neighborhood was scrapped.

The commission has until Dec. 22 to vote on getting the hotel lease question on the March ballot.

Voters will still have plenty to decide in November. Three current commissioners — Wolfson, Tobin and Deede Weithorn — are term-limited and Mayor Philip Levine is up for reelection. There will also be a referendum on a land-use density increase in North Beach.

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