No fast track for new Miami Beach convention center hotel

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

It appears highly unlikely that voters this November will see a new ballot measure on whether Atlanta-based Portman Holdings will be allowed to lease public land for the construction of a new Miami Beach convention center hotel.

A Blue Ribbon panel set up in April by Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine to examine the hotel issue did not reach any agreement late Monday on where any new hotel should be built, how many rooms it should contain, how tall it should be and whether or not it should incorporate the Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater into its design.

Miami Beach Commissioner Ricky Arriola, who chairs the panel, noted that any new language for a new ballot measure would have to be completed by August. “November is a long shot,” he said about whether Portman Holdings would be able to move forward with a plan to lease public land adjacent to the Jackie Gleason Theater for the construction of a proposed 25-story, 800 room convention center hotel.

Supporters of the hotel have said that it’s needed to 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. “We’re spending $600 million, we need a hotel,” Arriola said.

Because of earlier opposition to the hotel, any ballot measure requires a 60 percent super-majority from voters. In March, Miami Beach voters only gave the measure 54 percent approval, largely based on fears that any new hotel would only worsen traffic congestion on Miami Beach.

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Traffic remains an overriding concern. Arriola said any new proposal would require a new traffic study. While the panel approved a contract with Florida International University’s School of Public Policy to carry out a survey of 600 Miami Beach voters as to whether they would support another hotel bid, panel members said they were in no hurry to put the issue before voters in November. Former Commissioner Saul Gross said issues of “height, traffic and design,” still need to be addressed and “no November deadline was necessary.”

Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez said while “we are going in the direction of less room size,” she was still unhappy about where the proposed hotel would be located, on busy 17th Street. “There has to be a different location,” she said, citing traffic concerns. “It can’t be on 17th Street.”

In April, Levine urged quick action on the hotel proposal, noting that Portman Holdings had agreed to privately finance any voter-approved measure and that finding a “non-subsidized option” could be a challenge.

Monday night, Jack Portman, vice chairman of Portman, told the panel he was “amenable” to reducing the room count of the hotel and limiting the height to 185 feet, telling the panel that for now, “I think I’ll just sit tight.”