The debate over a proposed headquarter hotel for the Miami Beach Convention Center has heated up after a mysterious new opposition group started sending mailers and making automated phone calls asking voters to reject the plan.
A political committee called Governmental Values Coalition has mailed advertisements and launched robocalls telling residents to vote no on the lease of public land that would allow Atlanta-based developer Portman Holdings to build an 800-room, 288-foot tall hotel at the corner of 17th Street and Convention Center Drive.
The robocalls state the hotel will cost taxpayers $400 million, even though it is outlined in the proposed lease that the developer would privately finance the project and bear all costs related to design, permitting and construction. Public dollars would not subsidize the hotel.
Others have come out against the plan, including former Miami Beach Commissioner Jonah Wolfson, who has opposed a hotel since its inception because he believes it will create more traffic.
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But it is unclear who is behind Governmental Values Coalition and what connections they have to Miami Beach. According to state records, the committee’s chairman is Ed Abramovitz, director of operations and finance at Links Residential, a real estate company based out of Teaneck, New Jersey.
Reached at his office late Monday afternoon, Abramovitz did not return a request for comment.
State filings also show the committee does not have to submit a financial report listing contributors until March 10 — five days before voters go to the polls.
On Monday supporters, including Mayor Philip Levine and a group of local tourism and business officials, denounced the ads against the plan and the group behind it. Hotel backers including Levine; billionaire auto magnate Norman Braman; former state Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach; and Liliam Lopez, president of South Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, took aim at Governmental Values Coalition.
Braman, an avid art collector who helped create Art Basel Miami Beach more than a decade ago, said the the fair’s organizers have wanted a headquarter hotel since the beginning.
“I believe if this hotel is not approved by the voters, it will truly jeopardize the future of Art Basel in this community,” he said. “From the very inception, in the negotiations with the people in Basel, Switzerland, the subject of a convention center hotel was raised.”
Levine, who publicly endorsed the hotel last week, said at first he wondered why a headquarter hotel was needed, given the abundance of hotels in Miami Beach.
“That was my initial thought process,” he said. “But then as I spoke to companies, spoke to organizations, talked to meeting planners, convention experts, they all said to me, ‘Mayor, you’re wrong.’”
Local tourism chiefs have long clamored for a hotel that would connect to the convention center and serve as a base for meeting organizers. They argue that with lodging next door, the convention center can attract large meetings that would bring business to other hotels and local shops and restaurants.
Those who oppose the hotel insist it will create more traffic snarls for an already-congested South Beach.
Supporters counter with a traffic study that says a hotel coupled with a renovated convention center will book more conventions and fewer consumer shows that bring in day-trippers, which means less traffic.
Early voting begins at 7 a.m. Monday at City Hall, 1700 Convention Center Dr., and at the North Shore Branch Library, 7501 Collins Ave.