Editorials

Consensus might make third time the charm for Miami Beach Convention Center hotel

Miami Herald Editorial Board

The new Miami Beach Convention Center truck attracting business in January at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
The new Miami Beach Convention Center truck attracting business in January at the Vancouver Convention Centre. Miami Beach Convention Center

A concrete plan for a new Miami Beach Convention Center headquarter hotel, approved on Tuesday by a majority of voters, but not the 60 percent needed to proceed, may not be road kill after all.

A day after its defeat at the polls, Miami Beach commissioners voted to direct city administrators to come back in April with a new, third plan to place on November’s presidential ballot, where thousands more voters obviously will cast ballots, with far more voices weighing in.

Now, all that’s needed is a plan to replace the proposed 800-room, 288-foot-high hotel across the street from City Hall, on leased public land and privately financed by developer Portman Holdings. Although the Editorial Board supported the plan, it did give credence to opponents’ complaints about some of the overreaching promises made.

Some concerned residents took issue mainly with the ill-conceived main entrance and height of the hotel in mid-Miami Beach and exactly when and how the city would reap the $24 million promised.

Some advice: Hotel advocates need to sharpen their pitch and sweeten the deal to Beach residents. Among the options that could win over the opposition is designing a hotel that’s smaller in scale, broader instead of taller, and integrated with a planned park that’s now a parking lot across from the convention center.

And any new plan must realistically address the traffic such a hotel will bring into the city. The rationale floated to gridlocked residents that many of these conventioneers will just walk, not drive, around the city didn’t ring true. After all, the hotel will also rely on other events — weddings, banquets — to bring in revenue, and those surely will be attended by the local driving public.

Miami Beach tourism officials have all but shooed away day conventions, events like the Miami International Boat Show. They believe industry conventions are more lucrative, drawing conventioneers who will bring their families and spend several days in the city, not just drive across the bay for an event.

Miami Beach needs a shiny new hotel to keep its destination chops fresh.

And because the two projects have been separated, the $600 million renovation of the convention center has started and cries out for new accommodations for that new breed of conventioneers.

But it’s obviously not an easy sell for Miami Beach residents rightly concerned with their quality of life.

Tuesday’s vote was the second defeat of a convention-hotel-related proposal since 2013, when a larger 52-acre redevelopment plan was eventually removed from the ballot and scrapped by a new commission. Voters in that election also approved making it harder to pass a public land lease in the convention center neighborhood, raising the threshold to 60 percent; that played a critical role in Tuesday’s defeat, where only 54 percent of voters approved the new hotel.

City Manager Jimmy Morales now has to get the new proposal done at lightning speed. He has to identify and weigh alternatives that will have a good chance of passing in November. Good luck.

The manager and other city officials should seek input from those who opposed the latest plan. People like new Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez and former mayors Matti Bower and David Dermer. Residents must also have a say in the process. If they think this project is something being shoved down their throats, the project will yet again be doomed.

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