Jungle Island hotel vote delayed at least one more year

ESJ Capital Partners pulled item amid stiff opposition from nearby residents on Venetian Island

Rendering of Jungle Island. Inset: John Dunlop
Rendering of Jungle Island. Inset: John Dunlop

UPDATED July 27, 5:15 p.m.: City of Miami residents won’t get to vote on a hotel proposal for Jungle Island this November.

Prior to a crucial vote by the Miami City Commission to move forward with a referendum, Jungle Island’s new owners pulled their request for a 39-year lease extension and a deal allowing for the development of a $50 million hotel next to the local theme park on Watson Island.

For weeks, ESJ Capital Partners had hoped at least three commissioners would back its proposal, but the support wasn’t there. Instead, Miami politicians were leery after ESJ faced stiff opposition from nearby residents on Venetian Island.

In a statement, ESJ Chief Operating Officer Elie Mimoun said the company decided to postpone its plans to bring a hotel to Jungle Island until the next municipal election cycle, which is in 2018.  The hotel is part of the firm’s “long-term strategic plan of transforming Jungle Island into an eco-adventure destination,” Mimoun said in a statement. 

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Following ESJ’s purchase of Jungle Island for $60 million in April, company executives insisted they needed to quickly move on the hotel referendum in order to close a deal with an unnamed eco-adventure hotel brand. Miami’s city charter requires voter approval for any commercial leases on public waterfront land.

ESJ is already working on a multi-phased redesign of the park that includes ziplines with views of downtown Miami, the park and Miami Beach, as well as children’s rides, animal exhibits, a private beach club, water slides and a multi-acre Crystal Lagoon, as well as food and beverage upgrades.

ESJ wants a lease extension from 2060 to 2099. For the rights to develop the hotel, ESJ would pay the city a rent payment representing 1 percent of the building’s annual gross revenue. ESJ is also offering to invest about $700,000 in the Ichimura-Miami Japanese Gardens and about $500,000 for a green energy educational facility.

Correction: A previous version of this story said the next election cycle would be in 2019. It is in 2018.

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