Miami Beach

Voters to decide whether Miami Beach should have an 800-room convention center hotel

This image shows a vortex-shaped media screen that would be in the lobby of the renovated Miami Beach Convention Center.
This image shows a vortex-shaped media screen that would be in the lobby of the renovated Miami Beach Convention Center. City of Miami Beach/Fentress Architects/Arquitectonica/West 8

Miami Beach voters will decide the fate of a proposed hotel next to the soon-to-be-renovated convention center despite objections from one commissioner who felt building a hotel before developing mass transit would make Beach traffic worse.

On Thursday, the city commission voted 6-1, with Commissioner Jonah Wolfson opposing, to let voters decide in November whether to approve a possible lease of city land for an 800-room hotel. Beach residents will be able to review the plan online; 60-percent approval would be required to go forward. The city also unanimously approved part of the design for the $500-million convention center renovation, which is expected to start in early 2016.

The idea is for the city to lease the land for the hotel, which is behind the Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater at the corner of 17th Street and Convention Center Drive, to a firm that would pay the city for building rights. The city projects revenues of around $11 million annually from a hotel lease.

“It’s a ground lease. There will be no cost to the taxpayer,” said Maria Hernandez, project director of the convention center district. “The city will basically rent out that site and we will get a payment for the rental of that site. There is no cost to the taxpayer because it’s a private developer that would build the hotel.”

The vote came after a discussion on a traffic study looking at the impact that an 800-room hotel would have on the Beach’s congestion.

Mayor Philip Levine said although the study did not incorporate potential mass transit improvements that could come about in the future, he favored the hotel.

Levine questioned the wisdom of spending $500 million on a convention center renovation and not having a convention center hotel nearby.

Wolfson countered that a working mass transit system should come before a hotel.

“If there was a train that stopped here, I would vote for this in a heartbeat,” he said.

While a majority of the commission agreed with the study’s finding that traffic will not get worse if the city brings in more conventions and fewer consumer shows, Wolfson said he found flaws in the study’s methodology.

He took issue over how the study, done by AECOM, used traffic data from three weekdays in April 2013 to make its projections. He also felt that the assumption the hotel would have a 75-percent occupancy rate at all times was too low when considering demand at other hotels in Miami Beach. Overall, he thought the traffic impact would be greater than what was presented.

“I think that it defies logic that an 800-room hotel is not going to impact traffic in Miami Beach,” he said.

The report does say traffic at three intersections — Alton Road and 17th Street, Alton and Fifth Street, and Meridian Avenue and 17th Street — will likely have more congestion if the hotel is built. Using an A through F grading system for measuring average delay times for each vehicle, the study predicted these intersections would get an “E” grade.

Commissioner Deede Weithorn said the whole point of the renovation is to revamp the current model and bring in more conventions, which will be easier with a hotel and, according to the study, will reduce traffic.

“If we’re going after convention business, we need that convention center hotel, so we can have less impact on traffic,” she said.

Commissioners also approved 30 percent of the designs for the interior and exterior of the convention center, which are part of a package that will be sent to two competing firms for pricing. Thursday’s presentation included new images of the interior renovations, including a floor-to-ceiling, vortex-shaped media screen in the front lobby, and LED walls and ceiling, which would be programmed to fit the mood of the event.

Hernandez said she hopes to have two proposals ready for the commission in April.

After the votes, City Manager Jimmy Morales smiled as he noted the project’s progress.

“We are closer than we’ve ever been as a community to getting this project done,” he said.

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