Miami Beach Commissioners deferred action on changes to the City Code that would allow an addition and connecting bridge to the Fontainebleau Hotel after concerns were raised over parking, competition for the Convention Center Hotel, and gambling as a potential future use.
Commissioner Ricky Arriola sponsored referrals for discussion of a potential change to the Commission’s Land Use and Development Committee and the Planning Board but the item was deferred at last week’s Commission meeting due to objections from at least two commissioners including a concern over specific uses for the proposed ballroom facilities.
In a memo, Arriola said “The Fontainebleau Hotel has approached the City about expanding its conference/ballroom facilities to be more competitive with similar sized hotels in the market. The proposal would include the development of the vacant surface parking lot south of the main campus and also owned by the Fontainebleau.”
According to the memo, a development on the south lot would include a “main ballroom and a junior ballroom which could be used for events or conference facilities, as well as approximately 500 parking spaces.” The proposal also includes a vehicular and pedestrian bridge connecting the current Fontainebleau property with the new south lot addition.
Commissioner Michael Góngora told RE:MiamiBeach in a text message that he was going to pull the item from the consent agenda for discussion before it was deferred. “[I] am not in favor without more info. I’m concerned about what the purpose of the ballroom would be and didn’t like the idea of an overhead bridge. Since no one reached out to me on the item I was skeptical. Let’s see what happens between now and next month.”
Asked about the ballroom concerns, Góngora wrote, “competing with convention center hotel and potential for gambling.”
The Fontainebleau is owned by Jeffrey Soffer. Soffer and his sister Jackie split the assets of their real estate empire last fall when Jackie bid to develop the Miami Beach Convention Center Hotel along with developer David Martin. One of the requirements of bidders was that they could not “directly or indirectly, own, operate or manage a gambling establishment in Miami-Dade County.” Separately, the hotel lease contains a restriction that it “cannot be used for the operation of any gambling establishment (whether or not such use is permitted by applicable law).” Soffer and Martin were the sole bidders for the project and are now in the permitting process for construction.
Among other assets in the split, Jeffrey Soffer controls the Fontainebleau while Jackie Soffer retained the Aventura Mall.
Jeffrey Soffer has reportedly lobbied Florida legislators to expand gambling in the state with an eye toward bringing a casino to the Fontainebleau. In January, 2018, he purchased the Mardis Gras casino in Hallandale Beach which is now called The Big Easy.
The City of Miami Beach prohibits gambling and casinos though “the Florida legislature could attempt to enact a statutory provision that would preempt the City's legal ability to prohibit this type of use,” City spokeswoman Melissa Berthier wrote in an email to RE:MiamiBeach.
Arriola said he sponsored the referral because it’s difficult to find suitable space locally for large events like weddings and bar mitzvahs. “There aren’t that many places,” he wrote in a text message. “The Fontainebleau Hotel is one of the ‘go to’ places for event planners, but even they are often booked. They came to me to see if I would sponsor the consideration of the expansion of their parking garage and event space. Given their need for more parking, especially employee parking, I think it’s wise to consider this project.”
“With respect to gaming,” Arriola wrote, “there are very stringent protections at the state and local level, so I don’t think concerns about gaming are a reason to prevent more parking and event space when both are badly needed.”
Like Góngora, Commissioner Joy Malakoff is concerned about potential competition for the Convention Center Hotel from a Fontainebleau addition. “The Fontainebleau proposed project is in direct competition with our $620 million new Convention Center and the upcoming approved Convention Center Hotel,” she wrote in an email. “Their Proposal would add 500 parking spaces, but none for their employees, two ballrooms, meeting rooms and break-out rooms. This is similar to the components of the proposed Convention Hotel!”
“It is not far away,” she said. “I think the audience could be the same.”
The Fontainebleau is located at 4441 Collins Avenue. The site for the new Convention Center Hotel is at the corner of 17th Street and Convention Center Drive.
Arriola said, “With respect to the Convention Center Hotel, I believe a rising tide lifts all ships. To the extent more event space is available in Miami Beach, it will attract more weddings, corporate events, galas and other gatherings – which are good for our City. Also, the Convention Center Hotel will have a lot of business from the Convention Center so I think they will be full all the time.”
Lack of parking for the hotel’s workers has been an issue for a while but when Commissioners recently agreed to provide discounted parking passes for hotel workers, Arriola voted “no” indicating he wanted the Fontainebleau to pitch in. In a comment on Facebook this week, he wrote that he intended to pursue parking for employees. “I am going to make that part of the deal. Fair is fair!”
A call to Jeffrey Soffer’soffice for comment was not returned.
Action on Potential Addition for Fontainebleau Hotel Deferred:
Concerns raised about parking, competition for convention center hotel, and gambling
Changes to bid process reap rewards
Area from 53rd to 64th streets is now open