Miami Beach

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine officially endorses convention center hotel plan

In September: Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales, left, Convention Center District Project Director Maria Hernandez, and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine stand on the City Hall parking garage rooftop with the vast backdrop of the Miami Beach Convention Center.
In September: Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales, left, Convention Center District Project Director Maria Hernandez, and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine stand on the City Hall parking garage rooftop with the vast backdrop of the Miami Beach Convention Center. Miami Herald File

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine on Friday officially — and very publicly — declared his support for a March 15th referendum to move ahead with building a privately funded convention center hotel in the heart of South Beach.

“On March 15th, let’s continue moving our city in the right direction by voting “Yes” (#60) for a privately funded Convention District Hotel, vital neighborhood improvements for Miami Beach, and more than 1,400 new jobs for area residents,” Levine wrote in an open letter to constituents. “I’ll be voting “Yes” and I humbly ask you to join me, along with many leaders in our City, in doing so as well.”

The lease of public land needed to allow Atlanta-based Portman Holdings to build a hotel directly west of The Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater will go to Beach voters in a city referendum during the presidential primary on March 15.

The campaign is being run by political action committee Better Miami Beach, which is chaired by Portman's attorney and has been bankrolled by the company to the tune of about $34,000, as of the most recent filings with Florida's elections department.

The convention center renovation, which began in December, was separated from the hotel project in January 2014 when the city commission led by then-newly elected Levine scrapped a larger-scale, 52-acre redevelopment of the convention center district and decouple the convention center re-do and the hotel.

During the 2013 election season, then-Commissioner Jonah Wolfson successfully led the charge against that large redevelopment plan in a campaign that was partly funded by the Fontainebleau Hotel. The resulting legal battle is what raised the threshold needed to approve such a public land lease to 60 percent of voters.

Now, Portman wants to lease the land at the corner of 17th Street and Convention Center Drive to develop a privately financed, $400 million, 800-room hotel rising 25 stories.

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech

Read Mayor Philip Levine’s complete statement

Dear Fellow Miami Beach Neighbor,

The most important thing I can do as your Mayor is to make sure we evaluate and validate any measures that are proposed to advance the interests of our city, and every resident who lives here. I take that responsibility seriously, because if we don’t protect our neighborhoods and secure our future, no one will.

After two years of meetings and hearings where our city heard from experts here and across the world, we now have an opportunity to make our Convention Center one of the world’s best, generate $25-million a year for vital city improvements, create more than 1,400 jobs, address traffic congestion, and do it all without spending one penny in taxes.

During the upcoming March 15th election, Miami Beach voters will have the opportunity to approve the lease of a parcel of City-owned land so a 100-percent privately funded hotel can be built as part of a master plan to finish the Convention Center. The hotel will be directly connected to the Convention Center. Independent studies have already confirmed this will encourage more pedestrian activity and reduce traffic by eliminating the need for convention attendees to drive to and from events at the Center each day.

This was a critical component for me because we must move away from consumer/ commuter shows, which bring additional congestion to our city and aggressively transition to world-class conferences which put “heads in beds” as opposed to “cars on roads.” Top convention planners and industry experts all say that the only way Miami Beach will be considered a top destination for “fly-in” conferences is if we have a base hotel attached to our new Convention Center.

Further, the hotel is being built completely with private dollars, and will generate an estimated annual average of $24.6 million to our community in tax and lease contributions. Those dollars are necessary to help improve our neighborhoods, paying for: flood mitigation, undergrounding of utilities, education enhancements, and transit improvements that could include a new streetcar/trolley system.

The past year has been an exciting one for our community, filled with progress and milestones. We celebrated our City’s 100th Anniversary, stepped up our efforts to fight flooding, and long-awaited renovations to our Convention Center are finally underway —a point of civic pride and an economic engine for Miami Beach.

On March 15th, let’s continue moving our city in the right direction by voting “Yes” (#60) for a privately funded Convention District Hotel, vital neighborhood improvements for Miami Beach, and more than 1,400 new jobs for area residents. I’ll be voting “Yes” and I humbly ask you to join me, along with many leaders in our City, in doing so as well.

Let’s finish the job!

Sincerely,

Philip Levine

Mayor, City of Miami Beach

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