Voters get last word on Jungle Island hotel, lease extension
Written by John Charles Robbins on May 2, 2018
The owners of Jungle Island plan a long, slender hotel designed like the curves and cascading balconies of a cruise ship, only smaller, as a key to a multi-million-dollar redevelopment of the animal theme park on city-owned Watson Island.
City of Miami voters will be asked to approve the hotel as part of a proposal extending the lease of ESJ Capital Partners.
The city leases the land at 1111 Parrot Jungle Trail to ESJ JI Leasehold LLC. The city charter requires that a referendum approve any sale or lease of city-owned waterfront.
Park officials hope to get the proposal on the August ballot. Commissioners are expected to discuss the issue May 10.
A similar plan discussed last year was deferred in July to afford ESJ more time for community outreach.
Some nearby residents, particularly on the Venetian Islands, have been critical of additional development plans for Watson Island, which connects the City of Miami to Miami Beach.
Added traffic and impacting view corridors are principal concerns raised.
Jungle Island representatives said they’ve met multiple times with neighbors and kept them in the loop as the hotel design evolved. The placement of the hotel on the footprint of the existing two-story garage was determined to have the least impact on views from neighboring islands, they said.
Other neighbors call Star, Palm and Hibiscus Islands home.
Iconic Attractions Group manages Jungle Island. CEO John Dunlap, who has been running the show at the park for five years, said the plan for the hotel has evolved since last year.
“We always knew we needed a hotel there. We began talking about a theme, and decided it would basically stay relatively low-rise, out of respect for residents in the area,” Mr. Dunlap told Miami Today.
Final ballot language isn’t yet approved, but the hotel would be limited a 130-foot height and no more than 300 rooms.
Architect Malcolm Berg of EoA Inc. was hired to design the hotel. With the feedback of neighbors in mind, Mr. Berg was asked to minimize both the hotel’s footprint and its impact on views, Mr. Dunlap said.
No flag has been named for the hotel, but ESJ’s Micha Dubernard said it will be a theme hotel consistent with the property.
The ballot proposal will focus on a lease extension between the city and ESJ, and ask voters to approve 39 years added to the lease.
Under the deal, ESJ must construct the hotel; pay an additional $250,000 annual rent escalating to $1,150,000 or 5% of hotel gross, whichever is greater; contribute $700,000 to the city’s adjoining Ichimura Miami-Japan Garden; and donate $500,000 to the city’s affordable housing trust. The city would reimburse ESJ $500,000 for a new seawall.
Along with the hotel, near-term plans include enhanced amenities like an indoor state-of-the-art trampoline park, an aerial play and rope course, an outdoor skydiving wind tunnel, escape rooms, a beach restaurant, multiple water play elements, a zip-line experience, a Crystal Lagoon and a lazy river.
Mr. Dunlap said the new Jungle Island will create hundreds of jobs.
The park, closed since Hurricane Irma in September, is to reopen Memorial Day Weekend.