Battle over Miami Beach convention center hotel heats up

Rendering of the Miami Beach Convention Center Hotel (Credit: John Portman & Associates)
Rendering of the Miami Beach Convention Center Hotel (Credit: John Portman & Associates)

The battle lines are drawn over whether a new 800-room hotel will be built next to a newly renovated Miami Beach convention center, which is expected to fully reopen in 2018.

Voters in the March 15 presidential primary balloting will decide whether Atlanta-based Portman Holdings will be allowed to lease public land for construction of the hotel. In recent days, the battle over the hotel has heated up with opponents of the hotel saying it will worsen traffic conditions, and supporters saying the new hotel will ease congestion on Miami Beach.

Convention center hotel supporters, including the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, say the hotel is necessary for the success of the convention center. The newly renovated convention center will feature a 60,000-square-foot ballroom, which is expected to attract big conventions and consumer shows. Hotel backers have said that a new hotel is needed to cater to that market.

Jack Portman of Portman Holdings told The Real Deal a new hotel is needed because the business model of the convention center will be different when it reopens – shifting from trade shows that attract daily visitors to multi-day conventions. “A convention facility has conventions that come in four or five days, and they stay in the hotel,” he said. “Having the hotel next to the convention center facilitates their using the convention center and the purpose of their meetings when they are here.”

The city is seeking a 99-year lease for a parcel of land at the corner of 17th Street and Convention Center Drive, which will then be turned over to Portman Holdings for the construction of a $400 million, 288-foot tall, 800-room hotel. The parcel is located just behind the Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater.

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But because of earlier opposition to the hotel from former Miami Beach commissioner Jonah Wolfson, the measure to lease the land needs approval from 60 percent of voters to pass.

Wolfson has continued to lead opposition to the hotel and has said it will worsen traffic congestion in Miami Beach. Newly elected commissioner Kristen Rosen-Gonzalez agrees, telling TRD that the hotel will have about 500 employees who congest the area. Rosen-Gonzalez said it’s unrealistic to assume that hotel visitors will spend all their time indoors.

“There is the expectation that when people come here they will walk or arrive by mass transit,” she said. “It doesn’t factor in that they are never going to go to the beach are anywhere else and that they are only going to walk to the convention center.”

A traffic study by AECOM Consulting found that a new hotel attracting multi-day conventions rather than consumer shows that rely on local visitors would reduce vehicle traffic by 53 percent – from more than 24,000 vehicle trips per day to just more than 6,000 trips per day over a four-day period – but Rosen-Gonzalez said she is skeptical that will happen and that it’s not clear Miami Beach needs another 800 hotel rooms. “We have built around 2,000 hotel rooms in the past couple of years. Small hoteliers are definitely opposed to this because right now their occupancy rates are already down,” she said. “Our current inventory rate of hotel rooms can book the same amount of conventions.”

But backers of the hotel said many of those hotel rooms are blocks away from the convention center. According to Portman, convention center hotel guests will be able to walk from the hotel into the convention center and also be able to take advantage of the many attractions nearby. “It’s across the street from the New World Symphony and next door to the Gleason,” he said. “What this does is create an amenity package that cannot be equaled anywhere in the U.S.”