Hyatt Regency riverfront deal gets a slowdown
Written by John Charles Robbins on May 15, 2018
Hyatt Regency executives are eager to lock in a new long-term lease of Miami riverfront so they can build a new hotel and more, but city commissioners are in no rush and made that clear May 10.
Proposed legislation to put the matter on the August primary election ballot was deferred for at least two weeks.
The City of Miami owns the 4.2-acre site at 400 SE Second Ave., home to a Hyatt Regency hotel and the city’s James L. Knight Convention Center.
Hyatt has grand redevelopment ideas and is trying to get a lease extension. Voters will ultimately be involved as it requires a city charter amendment to extend the lease impacting city-owned waterfront.
The current conceptual plan would clear the site of all buildings, including the convention center, making room for a new 900-room hotel and two mixed-use residential towers with 900 units each, about 50,000 square feet of retail, some office space and parking.
A key feature of the latest plan being touted by the Hyatt team is to raise the three towers 45 to 50 feet above ground for open vistas and a type of town square green space connected to a landscaped public riverwalk.
The deal would mean more revenue to the city, with a minimum guaranteed rent of $2 million a year plus a percentage of gross profits from other uses.
Staff of the city’s Department of Real Estate and Asset Management and Hyatt representatives have been working on redevelopment of the site for years. Going into the May 10 meeting they were hopeful of having the matter placed on the August ballot.
But it was not smooth sailing, and several commissioners said they’re not about to hurry the process on the fate of what arguably is one of the city’s most valuable assets.
The downtown property, on the north side of the Miami River, abuts Brickell Avenue on the east and is connected by the riverwalk to the nearby Fort Dallas Park, also owned by the city.
Commissioner Joe Carollo wants more time to study the proposal. Commissioner Manolo Reyes wants more details before putting it before voters. Commissioner Ken Russell wants a guarantee of affordable housing and a commitment to more green space.
Daniel Rotenberg, director of the Department of Real Estate and Asset Management, was giving commissioners a status report on the property, and explained the city’s giving up the convention center land for the redevelopment.
“Let them [Hyatt] use it to go vertical, so the city can increase their revenues at the site and have an iconic hotel and residential complex,” he said.
Mr. Carollo was upset that he’d not been informed of the ongoing negotiations around the Hyatt until very recently.
“We’re supposed to make a decision on huge amounts of money, for a 99-year lease, and this had to have been going on for some time. I certainly didn’t know about it,” he said.
Mr. Carollo said rushing into million-dollar deals has gotten the city into trouble in the past. He referenced developer Flagstone and its Island Gardens resort planned for city-owned Watson Island.
Flagstone Island Gardens LLC sued the city after the commission found the developer in default of a ground lease of island property, determining little to none of the upland portion of a planned mixed-use mega-resort had been built. A deep harbor marina was completed in 2016.
Flagstone won the first round in court, and the city was planning an appeal.
“I’m not necessarily against this,” Mr. Carollo said of the Hyatt proposal. “This might be a good option for everybody … but this is a business deal that is very complex, it’s for 99 years. This is beyond our lives, our kids’ lives, and maybe even beyond our grandchildren’s lives. So we need to be very careful of what we’re doing here so that we don’t end up in anther fiasco like Flagstone and then all the staff that we have turns around and they’re testifying against their own city.
“And I’m seeing too many of the same players. I’m feeling very uneasy and I want to go easy at this so that we could be sure that we understand everything. I want to go through the thick contract … I think we all need to. We owe that to the public. That’s why we were elected – not to just rubberstamp something,” Mr. Carollo said.
“I do know that this is being thrown at us – boom – all of a sudden, and there’s been a lot of people that have known about this and working on this long before I even heard about it, and this concerns me,” he said.
Commissioner Wifredo “Willy” Gort said the conceptual look of the project is beautiful, “but you’re not ready to take it to the voters.”
Commission Chairman Keon Hardemon said he agreed. “It’s not ready for the ballot and I’m not in a rush.”
Officials with the city and Hyatt, along with CBRE representatives, have been presenting the latest proposal to city review boards with a goal of getting the plan before voters in August.
A draft of the ballot wording reads: “Shall the City Charter be amended to extend City’s Lease with Hyatt of 4.2 acres of waterfront land at 400 S.E. 2nd Avenue for additional 49 years (total 99-year term) and include: convention center land; new hotel and mixed-use development; new public Riverwalk and other public amenities; and Minimum guaranteed rent to City of $2,000,000 annually, plus percentage of gross profits from all other uses?”
The Miami River Commission recently recommended approval of the Hyatt redevelopment proposal.
The plan calls for adoption of a new master plan and selection of a third-party developer.
In seeking developers, the parties have prepared developer guidelines.
Those read, “Hyatt shall provide preference to developers that place particular emphasis on the below guidelines and objectives when submitting their proposals:”
■Development of a mixed-use river plaza, inclusive of a state-of-the-art Hyatt Hotel and other compatible uses, including, but not limited to, residential, office, meeting space, retail and public amenities.
■Incorporate plans to include either workforce housing on site or a monetary contribution to qualifying affordable housing projects, which will support attainable housing within the city and provide significant public benefits to city residents.
■Provide sufficient open and green space for a welcoming public atmosphere.
■Attract visitors to the public riverfront by providing visual and physical connections to the river from the street, including pedestrian and bicycle paths along view corridors.
■Provide for native landscape design, including shade and coverage.
■Renovate and expand the riverwalk to encourage safe public use, walkability, connectivity, and ease of access to the nearby Fort Dallas Park and Riverwalk MetroMover Station.
■Specify plans to enhance lighting and aesthetics to connecting riverwalk, including lighting and other enhancements under the adjacent bridge.
■Facilitate access to site by means of the Knight Center Metromover Station.
■Include sufficient on-site parking to accommodate proposed uses.
■Incorporate adaptability and flexibility to consider traffic patterns both within and surrounding the site, including potential rearrangement of the I-95 Downtown Distributor.
■Create intuitive site entrance(s) and exit(s), maximizing connectivity to surrounding traffic by increasing flexibility to enter and exit site.
■Incorporate adaptability and flexibility to provide staging areas in the event Brickell Avenue bridge is relocated or a tunnel is constructed in the future.
■Improve the revenue-producing capacity of the site while balancing public uses.
■Include long-term sustainability within design, including considerations for sea level rise.
■Specify construction timelines, including any proposed phasing (note if phasing is proposed, riverwalk improvements must be completed before issuance of a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy for the initial phase).
■Provide demolition plans, including mitigation strategies to minimize debris within the river and surrounding areas (such as by providing riverbottom surveys or other strategies).
■Address applicable archeological concerns and historic preservation guidelines.
■Incorporate a 50-foot unobstructed public riverwalk/greenway at the same elevation as the connecting riverwalk