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Understanding your ballot: Miami Beach Convention Center hotel vote, explained

If you live in Miami Beach, your March 15 ballot is going to include the following jargon:

Re: Approval of City’s Lease of City Property for Convention Center Hotel
Should the City lease a 2.65-acre property at northeast corner of 17th Street and Convention Center Drive to Portman Miami Beach LLC for 99 years, requiring, per Resolution 2015-29115:
• Construction/operation of privately-funded 800 room Hotel with 288 foot height limit, connected to Convention Center via pedestrian Skybridge
• No gambling
• Rent to City after the hotel opens, including greater of: minimum rent ($12,373,785 over first ten years, adjusted thereafter) or percentage of the hotel’s revenues annually?

OK, now, in English.

You’re voting on whether an 800-room hotel should be built next to the Miami Beach Convention Center to serve as its headquarter hotel.

If you’re someone who’s lived and voted on the Beach in the last three years, you might think you already voted on this. Nope. What you voted on in 2013 was how this vote would go down, upping the requirements for approval from a majority to a supermajority (60 percent). It’s very meta, we know.

Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez and other opponents have a ton of complaints about the hotel — chiefly centered on traffic increases. But the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau and supporters of the new hotel say that the new hotel would bring a crazy amount of revenue to the city — $100 million in new convention business, according to president and CEO Bill Talbert. And they argue that the new hotel won’t add many more cars to the streets because people will be staying next to the convention center and so would just walk everywhere.

Regardless of the outcome of the March 15 referendum, there will be no impact on the convention center renovations. We’ll run through the information you’ll want to consider when you vote:

The hotel itself

It will be at 17th Street and Convention Center Drive, just behind the The Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater. The spot is currently a paved lot. The hotel will have 25 stories with 800 rooms, and will be max 288 feet high (that’s the height limit). It will be connected to the Convention Center via a pedestrian sky bridge. For some perspective, the Loews Hotel on Miami Beach has 792 rooms and is 272 feet tall.

The Convention Center hotel, as proposed, includes a public park designed by the team behind Soundscape Park in front of the New World Symphony building along Washington Avenue.

The traffic

Opponents like Commissioner Gonzalez have responded to the question of whether the hotel will exacerbate the traffic with a resounding “yes.”

“The street, 17th Street, is a very narrow street. There are many intersections surrounding this part of Miami Beach and they are already at capacity,” she said. “Sure, we want to generate revenue, but at what cost?”

Traffic was already the chief complaint of both international and local tourists, according to a 2015 study by the GMCVB.

But a 2013 study commissioned by the City of Miami Beach reported that the impacts to traffic would be minimal. Commissioner Jonah Wolfson, the one who pushed for the supermajority vote to raise the bar for passing the hotel proposal, argued at the time the study was flawed because it was conducted during three weekdays in April 2013 — an inaccurate projection of Miami Beach traffic because it was both outside the high season and because unlike most places, the beach is busier on the weekends than weekdays.

The Greater Miami Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, which books the center, argues that the new hotel will not impact traffic as much as Gonzalez and Wolfson proposed because most attendees will fly in to Miami, said Bill Talbert, GMCVB president and CEO.

“Bringing a hotel to the new convention center will change the focus of the conventions from a consumer show, which is when people drive in and drive out everyday, to conventions where the delegates can fly in. They don’t need a car,” he said.

He says that the bureau can’t book those kinds of conventions today because the center lacks a headquarter hotel.

Green space

The hotel would be built on a paved parking lot. The developer building the hotel, Portman Holdings, promises a public park on part of the leased land. If the hotel is not approved, there is no plan for a park in that lot.

Cost and city revenues

The hotel will cost an estimated $400 million, and it will be entirely privately financed by Portman Holdings, an Atlanta-based development firm. The city will receive money from lease and tax revenue, but only once the hotel is actually built, which will likely take at least two years.

To use the space, Portman Holdings will pay either 2.5 percent of its gross revenue or a base annual rent that starts at $209,279 and increases to $418,557 over a decade, whichever is higher, according to The Real Deal. Portman Holdings could not be reached over the course of a week to comment on the projected annual tax revenue of the hotel.

Talbert said the larger scale conventions could result in “$100 million in new convention business.” But Rosen Gonzalez remains skeptical.

In the digital age, “I’m not really sure how relevant conventions will even be 20 years from now,” she said.

  • NoNonsense on the Beach

    you guys really sold out the residents by publishing this one-sided argument. I urge you to read the CON side of the argument on the Belle Isle Blog, published by people who will be directly affected, not just the visitors or the big money politicians and investors. Shame on you.

    • Roshan

      Hey NoNonsense on the Beach,

      Thanks for reading and for your comment. You’ll see that we spoke with representatives of both sides of the case — Commissioner Rosen Gonzalez who is opposed to the Convention Center Hotel, and the president of the GMCVB Bill Talbert who is in support of the hotel. We also attempted to contact former Commissioner Wolfson and Portman Holdings but both could not be reached by deadline. In doing so, we aimed to lay out both sides of the argument with this piece.

      Could you expand a bit on why you think it was one-sided? What do you think we missed?

      Again, appreciate your close read and looking forward to your feedback both now and in the future.

  • NoNonsense on the Beach

    you guys really sold out the residents by publishing this one-sided argument. I urge you to read the CON side of the argument on the Belle Isle Blog, published by people who will be directly affected, not just the visitors or the big money politicians and investors. Shame on you.

    • Roshan

      Hey NoNonsense on the Beach,

      Thanks for reading and for your comment. You’ll see that we spoke with representatives of both sides of the case — Commissioner Rosen Gonzalez who is opposed to the Convention Center Hotel, and the president of the GMCVB Bill Talbert who is in support of the hotel. We also attempted to contact former Commissioner Wolfson and Portman Holdings but both could not be reached by deadline. In doing so, we aimed to lay out both sides of the argument with this piece.

      Could you expand a bit on why you think it was one-sided? What do you think we missed?

      Again, appreciate your close read and looking forward to your feedback both now and in the future.

  • Priscilla

    Thank you for this explanation. I loved how you ended it!
    I feel like the traffic issue is a distraction from the underlying “elephants in the room.”

    This is public land, which the City has funded the ENTIRE costs of renovation for, and one small chunk of it – the Hotel in question – will be privately funded and operated. All while ignoring that fact that there are already DOZENS of hotels within walking distance of the convention center. Why create more competition in an already over saturated market of hotels & restaurants?

    I recently attended a convention like the ones they intend to draw more of, and they are right – many of the attendees did not rent cars and walked across the street (instead of a fancy skybridge) to their convention event all weekend long.

    We have enough hotels. The Beach does not need an additional 280 rooms no matter who’s paying for it.

  • Priscilla

    Thank you for this explanation. I loved how you ended it!
    I feel like the traffic issue is a distraction from the underlying “elephants in the room.”

    This is public land, which the City has funded the ENTIRE costs of renovation for, and one small chunk of it – the Hotel in question – will be privately funded and operated. All while ignoring that fact that there are already DOZENS of hotels within walking distance of the convention center. Why create more competition in an already over saturated market of hotels & restaurants?

    I recently attended a convention like the ones they intend to draw more of, and they are right – many of the attendees did not rent cars and walked across the street (instead of a fancy skybridge) to their convention event all weekend long.

    We have enough hotels. The Beach does not need an additional 280 rooms no matter who’s paying for it.

  • tillandsia

    Do your research, and you’ll learn that it’s the events like the Auto Show that draw locals that increase the traffic. True conventions that draw people from out of town should decrease the traffic, because those visitors typically don’t rent cars.

  • tillandsia

    Do your research, and you’ll learn that it’s the events like the Auto Show that draw locals that increase the traffic. True conventions that draw people from out of town should decrease the traffic, because those visitors typically don’t rent cars.

  • michaelbuzz

    It’s out of scale for the neighborhood. Residents already voted on a height limit and passed it saying no more high rises.

  • michaelbuzz

    It’s out of scale for the neighborhood. Residents already voted on a height limit and passed it saying no more high rises.

  • You don’t need a traffic study to tell you the obvious: an 800-room hotel will increase traffic on already saturated streets. I voted against the hotel because there is no provision for a mass transit station, and I don’t mean a bus stop either. Plus, the architecture bores me. The city should have required a design on the “destination architecture” level, something that when seen tells anyone around the world that they’re looking at a building in Miami Beach and not Las Vegas or, God forbid, Atlantic City.

  • You don’t need a traffic study to tell you the obvious: an 800-room hotel will increase traffic on already saturated streets. I voted against the hotel because there is no provision for a mass transit station, and I don’t mean a bus stop either. Plus, the architecture bores me. The city should have required a design on the “destination architecture” level, something that when seen tells anyone around the world that they’re looking at a building in Miami Beach and not Las Vegas or, God forbid, Atlantic City.