Miami Beach voters say ‘no’ to convention center hotel

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

Miami Beach voters on Tuesday failed to approve a ballot measure that would have allowed Atlanta-based Portman Holdings to lease public land for the construction of a new convention center hotel.  

Because of earlier opposition to the hotel, the ballot measure required 60-percent approval from voters but it received only 54 percent. Jack Portman, vice chairman of Portman Holdings, told The Real Deal “how often does anybody get 60%, but we are grateful to all the people who understood our position.”   

The hotel proposal had wide support from a majority of city commissioners and the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, which said it was privately financed, and necessary to the success of the convention center, which is undergoing a multi-year $514.4 million renovation.  

Hotel backers said a new hotel would attract big conventions and consumer shows but opponents said the $400 million, 25-story 800-room hotel would only worsen traffic congestion on already gridlocked Miami Beach – something hotel backers strongly disputed.   

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Commissioner Kristen Rosen-Gonzalez who helped lead opposition to the hotel told TRD “the other side ran a great campaign,” but she said Miami Beach voters are fed up with development.  “I think it sends a strong message that people don’t want to overdevelop Miami Beach….The people who have lived their entire lives on Miami Beach overwhelmingly voted ‘no.’”

Voters were actually asked to decide two ballot measures concerning the proposed hotel. One: to approve a 99-year lease for construction of the privately financed hotel, and a second measure about what to do with revenues generated from the hotel lease. The second ballot measure passed overwhelmingly but is meaningless because the hotel lease measure failed.   

This is the second time a major development project has been rejected by Miami Beach voters recently. Last November Beach voters rejected an increase in floor area ratio or FAR for the Ocean Terrace historic district in North Beach where a major condominium and hotel project was proposed.   

 Tensions mounted in the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s vote with hotel backers condemning mailings and robo-calls from mysterious PACs that called on voters to reject the hotel lease plan. On Tuesday, Portman criticized the tactics, telling TRD “they refused to declare who they were.”  The PACs were also condemned by Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine who in a Facebook post said “There is little doubt that the secretive efforts by the opponents of the measure resulted in the referendum failing to reach the near super majority requirement.”

Opponents of the hotel project said they had nothing to do with the PACs and said hotel backers spent over $1 million in support of the project.

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