The Real Deal Miami

Real estate heavyweights defeated: Democrat Andrew Gillum will face off against Trump pick Ron DeSantis

Voters also approved Jungle Island hotel and South Miami referendums
By Katherine Kallergis | August 28, 2018 10:25PM

Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum

Real estate heavyweights Philip Levine, Gwen Graham and Jeff Greene were all defeated Tuesday night in a stunning victory for Andrew Gillum as the Democratic nominee for governor of Florida. Gillum will be running against Republican nominee Ron DeSantis, President Trump’s pick.

Gillum, who grew up in Richmond Heights in Miami-Dade County, is the mayor of Tallahassee.

Graham and former Miami Beach mayor Levine had been leading in the polls in the week leading up to the primary election. But Graham, a former U.S. Representative, was criticized for her family’s role in the contentious American Dream mega-mall project in northwest Miami-Dade. Greene and Levine were also attacked in television ads for their previous praise of the president.

Voters also approved two referendums tied to major real estate developments: a referendum allowing Jungle Island owner ESJ Capital Partners to build a hotel, and a land-use amendment that could push forward the redevelopment of the Shops at Sunset Place.

ESJ, which paid $60 million for the lease of the 18-acre Watson Island theme park in April 2017, secured a lease extension of 39 years, plus a 15-year option, for the hotel. The referendum allows Jungle Island to build a hotel limited to 300 rooms and 130 feet tall.

With 122 of 127 precincts reporting at 10 p.m. on Tuesday, about 59 percent of voters approved the referendum, according to the county’s department of elections.

ESJ doesn’t have a construction timeline yet, a spokesperson said. Elie Mimoun, COO of the Aventura-based firm, said in a statement that “we will now be looking at a variety of options as to those next steps for the hotel.”

The additional annual rent would total $250,000 for the first three years of operations. After that, rent would rise to $1.22 million, or 5 percent of total gross revenue – whichever is greater.

ESJ would also contribute $700,000 for the adjacent city-owned park and $750,000 for an affordable housing fund. The proposed lease extension protects the city from delays by giving Jungle Island four years to receive a master building permit and six years to complete construction of the hotel.

In South Miami, 63.29 percent of the 2,411 voting residents voted to change the commission’s unanimous vote requirement for land use and development regulations in the city’s downtown to a four-fifths majority. The change is for commercial, industrial and mixed-use projects near the South Miami Metrorail Station, paving the way for projects like the Shops at Sunset Place redevelopment.

Federal Realty Investment Trust, Comras Company and Grass River Property proposed zoning changes that would allow the new ownership group to redevelop the mall. The commission voted down the zoning package last year. Their plans included knocking down parts of the mall and adding two apartment buildings with 400 units and a 200-room hotel and retail on the ground floor connecting both.