Miami Beach residents hear new ideas for a convention center hotel

Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater
Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater

A week after Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine said he would appoint a Blue Ribbon Panel to look into new proposals for a convention center hotel, Miami Beach residents are hearing about new ideas for a proposed hotel that would anchor the city’s convention center, which is undergoing a $615.7 million renovation scheduled to be completed in 2018.

Last month, 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. The ballot measure needed a 60-percent super majority, but only received 54 percent approval from Miami Beach voters, many of whom cited concerns about traffic congestion and the height of the proposed hotel for voting no.   

Monday night, about 100 of those voters met at the Miami Beach Woman’s Club as part of a meeting sponsored by the community organization Miami Beach United to hear new ideas about a future hotel.  

Preservationist Daniel Ciraldo told the audience that an informal survey he did following the vote showed that while 64 percent of the voters he polled did not support the previous proposal, more than 80 percent said they could support a new hotel if it met their concerns, which he said were focused on traffic congestion and the height, size and location of any new building.   

Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce President Jerry Libbin said any new hotel proposal would have to address at least several concerns, such as limiting the size of conventions and parking, which he said could be alleviated by a park-and-ride system for hotel workers, and an underground garage under a vacant lot adjacent to city hall which could also be used as a water catchment storage space during storms. Libbin also said any new hotel would not have to be nearly 30 stories tall if it incorporated the Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater into its design, noting that an earlier design submitted by Portman Holdings had a much lower profile.   

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Many residents said they would support the proposal, saying that the aging theater has bad acoustics and a state-of-the-art new theater could be built that could attract top talent.  

But some residents expressed wariness over any new hotel plans with one saying any new hotel would really only be used during the winter season, causing further traffic congestion. Others raised concerns over debt service for the new convention center, and parking in the immediate area, saying several events at the museum library complex in nearby Collins Park have had to be canceled because of a lack of parking due to construction workers using up street parking.   

Commissioner Ricky Arriola and vice-chair Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, who helped lead opposition to last month’s ballot measure, will lead the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Panel.  

A new hotel proposal could be put on the November ballot but several commissioners said last week they favored a slower approach. Speaking last week, Mayor Levine cautioned against waiting too long, noting that Portman Holdings had agreed to privately finance any voter-approved measure and finding a “non-subsidized option” could be a challenge.