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After a year of consultant studies and debate over the need for a hotel adjacent to the Miami Beach Convention Center, a committee of elected officials and residents — including some prominent opponents of the previous deal — agree that a hotel is necessary. The differences they recommend: The hotel should be shorter than 185 feet and grow to include the stretch of public land between City Hall and Washington Avenue.
This recommendation includes the site of the Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater, a popular live music venue that would be torn down and replaced either inside or next to the proposed hotel.
An earlier plan to lease out city-owned land at the corner of 17th Street and Convention Center Drive for an 800-room, 288-foot-tall hotel was rejected in a March 2016 referendum when only 54 percent of voters favored it, short of the required 60 percent approval. Now, instead of a tall tower on a small corner, the committee is suggesting a shorter building on a wider footprint that includes the Fillmore, with 800 to 1,000 rooms and a plan to address traffic flow.
The committee recommends the city spend the next year explaining the concept to residents, then hold a straw ballot in autumn 2018. Like the last proposal, the hotel would be built on city land but with private financing and no public subsidy.
These are among the recommendations for garnering the required 60 percent. The ideas, which will be considered by the City Commission in July, point toward a changed philosophy — slower, with more public conversations — on how to get a hotel built in the wake of a high-profile defeat at the ballot box last year.
“We may still have several years of work to do on this, but the payoff is that this is going to be a very important hotel for the community, a landmark hotel,” said Commissioner Ricky Arriola, chairman of the committee.
Tourism officials and consultants insist the Miami Beach Convention Center, which is currently undergoing a $600 million renovation and expansion, needs a headquarter hotel next door to attract lucrative meetings that require rooms near exhibition halls.
The failure of the previous hotel proposal dealt a blow to the overall plan to upgrade the convention center district, which was overhauled upon the election of Mayor Philip Levine and three other commissioners who were elected with him. Levine pledged to get the convention center renovated and hotel built through two separate projects instead of the one mega-redevelopment plan approved by the previous elected officials.
Now it appears if a hotel does get built, it won’t be for several years. The committee wants the city to take a slower approach, spending a year meeting with civic and homeowners associations across the city to explain the anticipated benefits of hosting tech or medical industry meetings versus trade shows such as the car show. Large conventions often require room blocks in a headquarter hotel where meeting organizers are based through the event. Trade shows don’t typically demand this before booking.
Arriola, who was pro-hotel last time, and Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, a staunch opponent, led the resident committee that included supporters and skeptics from the last round. By the end of the year’s worth of research and debate, all agreed a hotel was necessary to attract new business to the convention center.
“This is not just about building a hotel to accommodate conventioneers, but it’s really a revenue generator for the city that is significant,” said Jorge Exposito, a former commissioner and member of the committee, at a recent meeting.
The committee had Florida International University conduct a survey to gauge residents’ feelings about a convention center hotel. The survey found voters were most concerned about the traffic impact of the hotel, followed by the height and mass of the proposed hotel.
The city’s transportation department studied alternate layouts and determined that more entry points to the hotel campus, together with an increased emphasis on conventions that put fewer cars on the road versus trade shows that attract more local traffic, will minimize the impact of a new hotel.
As for the Fillmore, which is not designated as historic and has been substantially renovated over the years, it could be rebuilt closer to Washington Avenue or Convention Center Drive. Sensitive to the large public outcry in response to a proposal in 2013 to tear down the venue and build a new performance hall with different types of entertainment, the committee wants to see a comparable performance space possibly with a smaller room attached to it for smaller performances, and the same mix of live acts.
The goal would be to keep the music venue open as long as possible before it has to be torn down, Arriola said.
In order to drum up public support, the committee wants to meet with voters and slowly explain its ideas, as well as the economic benefits of a hotel that will bring big industry meetings.
“Nobody will accuse us of rushing it,” said Saul Gross, committee member, a former commissioner, and opponent of the previous hotel plan.
After public outreach, the city would hold a nonbinding straw ballot referendum to gauge the public’s stance. If the results favored a hotel, officials could use the results to attract proposals from developers, who are expected to be gun-shy after the failure of previous projects.
The City Commission is expected to consider the committee’s recommendations July 26.