Miami Beach

Citizen panel to study future of hotel plan for Miami Beach Convention Center

The beleaguered plan for a hotel adjacent to the Miami Beach Convention Center might not be resolved until next year after the City Commission decided Wednesday to form a panel of citizens to study the issue.

The process could take longer than the tight timetable necessary to hold another referendum during the November presidential election — a goal for officials who want to see a hotel built as soon as possible.

In March, voters rejected a 288-foot hotel with 300 rooms at the northeast corner of 17th Street and Convention Center Drive, behind the Fillmore Miami Beach at Jackie Gleason Theater. About 54 percent of voters approved, falling short of the 60 percent threshold needed to approve a lease of public land in the convention center neighborhood. Hotel supporters hoped the much larger voter turnout for a presidential election would produce the extra votes for the measure.

Many voters said the hotel would have worsened already-bad traffic gridlock in South Beach. The size of the project also turned off some residents.

But the administration of city manager Jimmy Morales, along with a host of business and tourism officials, insist they need a headquarter hotel to attract lucrative conventions. With a $600 million renovation and expansion already under way, they say the success of an upgraded convention center hinges on the existence of a hotel next door.

On Wednesday, Morales recommended an aggressive option to get a hotel lease back on the ballot inNovember. His plan would include conducting a voter survey to gauge public opinion on the proposal and renegotiating the lease with the current developer. The hotel would go on the same 2.65 acres as previously proposed.

Morales told commissioners he’s talked to Florida International University about assisting with a survey that would identify what parts of the plan voters disliked and what changes would be necessary to help it get a supermajority vote.

“We want to try to ascertain if [voters] would entertain a hotel at all, and if so, what would need to change,” he said.

Mayor Philip Levine suggested commissioners Ricky Arriola and Kristen Rosen Gonzalez lead a panel of residents to explore the public’s appetite for a hotel.

“If it has to be long vetting process, so be it,” Levine said. “The convention center won’t be done for a while.”

Morales said Portman, the Atlanta-based developer who was ready to privately finance the convention center hotel, is still interested in the project. Portman spent about $1 million campaigning for the hotel before the March 15 referendum. Jack Portman, vice chairman of Portman Holdings, met with many resident groups himself.

Portman was willing to work on the proposed 16-week timeline to have a lease ready in August, the deadline to make the general election.

Morales said they’ve had initial conversations with Portman, and the company is willing to work in the short timeframe on a modified hotel proposal with no public subsidy.

With the panel, survey and talks with Portman, it’s going to be tough to get everything prepared for a referendum in November.

Rosen Gonzalez, who favored slowing down and taking more time to discuss the hotel, was pleased with the idea to appoint a panel.

“I keep thinking haste makes waste,” she said. “I’m glad that we’re planning this properly.”

Portman has not responded to the Miami Herald’s request for comment.

Joey Flechas: 305-376-3602, @joeflech