Miami Beach moves to revive 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)

The Miami Beach City Commission on Wednesday approved a series of measures that could eventually lead to a new convention center hotel being built.

Last month, Miami Beach voters failed to approve a ballot measure that would have allowed Atlanta-based Portman Holdings to lease public land for the construction of a new 25-story, 800-room convention center hotel. Because of earlier opposition to the hotel, the ballot measure required a 60 percent super-majority from voters but it received only 54 percent.  

Now, Miami Beach Mayor Phillip Levine and city commissioners are going to try again. On Wednesday they unanimously agreed to set up a Blue Ribbon Panel to examine the hotel issue and contract with Florida International University’s School of Public Policy to carry out a survey of voters as to whether they would support another hotel bid.   

Levine tasked commissioner Ricky Arriola to head the Blue Ribbon Panel and commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez as a vice-chair. Rosen Gonzalez who helped lead opposition to last month’s ballot measure said she would be glad to participate, telling other commissioners: “Let’s do it right this time.”  

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City Manager Jimmy Morales told commissioners that Jack Portman, vice chairman of Portman Holdings, had agreed that any new ballot measure would require the FIU survey and community meetings. Morales said these preliminary measures would have to be completed by August 9th in order to get a new measure on the November ballot.  

But commissioners and the mayor said they favored a slower approach. Both Levine and Rosen Gonzalez said there was no reason a November ballot measure was necessary, with Rosen Gonzalez saying she was “glad we’re not rushing to a November ballot.”

But Levine cautioned that waiting too long could be a problem, noting that Portman Holdings had agreed to privately finance the venture if voters had approved the 99-year land lease, and that it would be a challenge “to find a non-subsidized option.”  

Hotel backers have long said a new hotel would help anchor the city’s convention center, which is undergoing a multi-year renovation, scheduled for completion in 2018, at a total cost of $615.7 million. But critics say any new hotel would only worsen traffic congestion on Miami Beach — something hotel backers deny.