Yes to convention hotel on Miami Beach

Rendering from Portman Holdings shows the overhead view of the proposed convention center hotel in Miami Beach.
Rendering from Portman Holdings shows the overhead view of the proposed convention center hotel in Miami Beach.

Miami Beach needs a convention center hotel — has for decades. Whether the latest proposal becomes a reality is up to Beach voters now, and we recommend that they say Yes, it should.

With a $600 million renovation of the Miami Beach Convention Center underway, the city no longer can afford to not have an accompanying hotel to accommodate visitors attending higher-end conventions that the city now is losing to better positioned cities across the country.

In the past, proposals have been rejected as too big, too intrusive, too costly for taxpayers. The latest brouhaha is over an 800-room, 288-foot hotel on a parcel of land at the corner of 17th Street and Convention Center Drive, behind the Jackie Gleason Theater.

Miami Beach voters will decide in a referendum whether this proposed convention hotel is realized. One result of the last time the city tried to get a hotel off the ground — 2013 — is the new rule that 60 percent of voters must approve this latest iteration. It’s a high hurdle, but there’s good reason for voters’ backing.

According to the city and the developer, Atlanta-based Portman Holdings, the convention hotel will be 100 percent privately funded and stands to contribute up to $24 million to the city during the life of the 99-year lease; it will bring up to 1,400 jobs to the area, with about 400 being permanent; it will meet a longstanding need on the beach for a first-class hotel attached to a brand-new convention center; it is a scaled-back project that will not have retail shops competing with those on nearby Lincoln Road — a deal-killer the last time around — and, finally, the developer has made changes to appease residents’ concerns, a large park, for instance, and not building as high as allowed.

Voting is already underway and culminates on March 15. We recommend that Miami Beach residents finally pull the trigger and give this deal their blessing. Mayor Philip Levine, most commissioners, the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau have thrown their support to the project.

A group of advocates recently told the Herald Editorial Board that Miami Beach needs the hotel to stay competitive in the convention business. “This is going to make a significant difference to how this part of the city develops in the future,” said Jack Portman, vice chairman of Portman Holdings.

The Editorial Board also met with hotel opponents, including Commissioner Kristen Rosen-Gonzalez, former Mayor Matti Bower and Daniel Ciraldo, of the Miami Design Preservation League.

They made some solid points that voters should consider. Traffic — or make that more traffic — is the No. 1 concern. They rightly question studies that indicate additional traffic will be easily absorbed, and even reduced. Ms. Rosen-Gonzalez said it’s unrealistic to assume that hotel visitors will spend all their time indoors and without a set of wheels.

We agree. The city will have to take concrete measures to ensure that new traffic patterns cause as few impediments as possible.

Opponents also say that there was a lack of public input. However, the public spoke loud and clear three years ago when it rejected the larger project. The new proposal addresses many concerns. Now, residents have the chance to give the ultimate public input — by voting. And we recommend that they vote Yes to leasing public land to build the convention center hotel.