Miami Beach

Voters say no to Miami Beach convention center hotel proposal

This rendering showed 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 showed 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

It’s back to the drawing board for Miami Beach politicians after voters Tuesday rejected a ground lease for a hotel that would have been linked to the Miami Beach Convention Center.

About 54 percent of voters favored the lease, falling short of the 60 percent threshold necessary to approve leasing public land in the convention center district.

“Over the coming weeks, I will work with my colleagues to ensure that the will of the majority of Miami Beach voters is not silenced and that the progress we’ve made with our convention center corridor continues,” Mayor Philip Levine said in a statement after the votes were counted. Levine and many Beach-area tourism officials campaigned heavily for the hotel deal, but couldn’t deliver a supermajority of votes.

The convention center is currently undergoing a $600 million renovation and expansion. The 288-ft tall hotel would have had 800 rooms to lodge the kinds of citywide conventions local tourism chiefs hope to attract. Atlanta-based developer Portman Holdings had proposed privately-financing the $400 million hotel with no public subsidy.

Levine and other officials stumping for the hotel, including the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce and several local hotels maintained that a headquarter hotel is the linchpin to making the convention center re-do a success. In the process, an opposition arose from a few different angles, including some local preservationists and activists, along with the involvement of some mysterious political committees with unclear ties to the Beach.

Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, former mayors Matti Bower and David Dermer, the Miami Design Preservation League and others opposed the hotel deal. The main sticking points were the structure’s size, location and traffic impact. The proposed building would have gone on the corner of 17th Street and Convention Center Drive, across from Lincoln Road Mall.

Tuesday night, Rosen Gonzalez was elated with the election results. She characterized it as a vote against over-development despite the fact that the “yes” campaign spent $1 million in advertisements.

The 288-ft tall hotel would have had 800 rooms to lodge the kinds of citywide conventions local tourism chiefs hope to attract.

Saying that she is not categorically against a convention center hotel, Rosen Gonzalez was confident a deal can be struck that would garner widespread support and developers will still be interested in the project. “This is Miami Beach. This is one of the sexiest places to be in the U.S.” she said. “There will always be people bidding to build a hotel.”

Another of the hotel’s longest-standing opponents: former Beach Commissioner Jonah Wolfson, who in 2013 led the charge against the previous version of the convention center project. That fight resulted in the 60 percent threshold that proved to be out of reach for hotel proponents.

A few recently formed political action committees — including one that failed to file financial reports late last week and left political onlookers wondering where the money was coming from — injected some heat into what became a bitter debate.

Developer Jack Portman, who campaigned throughout the city speaking to residents about the project, said he was disappointed with the vote. Tuesday night he was unsure what comes next, if anything, regarding the developer’s interest in building a convention center hotel in the Beach.

“I love Miami Beach,” Portman said, “but I can’t think about that.”

If the they really feel they need a hotel, fine. But you don’t have to put a monstrosity in the middle of Miami Beach.

Entertainment lawyer David Marc Harris

Portman and other hotel proponents emphasized that more than half the vote went in favor of the lease, a fact they will undoubtedly use to keep hopes for a headquarter hotel alive.

On Tuesday, a range of voters shared their votes with the Miami Herald.

“There’s no need for a 288-foot tall building behind the Fillmore,” entertainment lawyer David Marc Harris said.

Just after casting his vote at Nautilus Middle School, he said the city can make a better deal for a smaller hotel. “If the they really feel they need a hotel, fine. But you don’t have to put a monstrosity in the middle of Miami Beach.”

Musician Jack Nieman recently moved to the Beach from New York. He and his husband, Rick Reder, voted midday at the Miami Beach Botanical Garden, a mere 100 feet away from the proposed site of the hotel.

“The 99-year lease is not a bad deal,” Nieman said.

Reder, a retired wealth management professional, said he believed the hotel would be an eyesore. “It’ll destroy the texture of the city,” he said.

Nevertheless, he voted yes because he said the city’s economy stands to benefit from big-time conventions.

Event planner Hinda Adler also felt the hotel was important for conventions to bring more money to local businesses — even though she thinks it’ll create more traffic jams.

“I know it’ll bring traffic,” she said at the Nautilus polling place. “But overall, I still think it’s a good thing for the city.”

In North Beach, Sarah Hammill stopped by the Indian Creek Fire Station to vote before heading to Florida International University where she works as a librarian. She said the convention hotel would have made the city’s gridlock worse and that other local hotels could accommodate industry meetings.

And besides, with sea-level rise looming, she said, it might not matter: “It’s a 99-year lease. I mean, this will all be underwater in 99 years.”

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech

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