Jeffrey Soffer’s plan to add ballroom and meeting space to his Fontainebleau Hotel to make it more competitive with other South Florida meeting facilities gained the endorsement of Miami Beach’s Planning Board. Next stop, the City Commission which will need to approve a zoning change to allow a stand-alone structure with ballroom and meeting space on what is now a surface parking lot between 43rd and 44th Street and Collins Avenue and Indian Creek Drive.
While the parking lot is owned by the Fontainebleau, it is across the street from the hotel which is why the zoning amendment is required. If the location of the structure were on the same property, the amendment would not be needed. A proposed pedestrian bridge connecting the new structure to the main Fontainebleau campus will also require Commission approval.
Earlier this month, the Planning Board recommended the zoning amendment favorably to the Commission. While awaiting Commission approval, an application has been filed with the Historic Preservation Board (HPB) for the design of a new five-story structure with parking garage, accessory ballrooms and meeting rooms.
The Fontainebleau reopened in 2008 after an approximately $1 billion renovation, but attorney Mickey Marrero, Bercow Radell Fernandez Larkin & Tapanes, told the Planning Board, the owner “realized that there was a major hole in its operations. The amount of ballroom and meeting room space per room key was significantly deficient from all of its competitors.”
The Fontainebleau, he said, has 59 sq. ft. of ballroom and meeting room space per hotel room key while its competitors, including the Trump Doral, Ritz Naples, and PGA National resorts, have 96 to 112 sq. ft. of ballroom and meeting space per room key.
The lack of space means the Fontainebleau is “turning away people” because it is unable to schedule a second event or several smaller events when one conference or event is scheduled.
Marrero said the owner and architect explored other options for expansion within the Fontainebleau’s main campus but due to the many historically significant buildings on the site and existing layout of the hotel, it “wasn’t really conducive to having another structure there” so they looked to the parking lot to the south as the best option.
In the HPB application, Marrero wrote, “This proposal is intended to address this deficiency and strengthen the hotel’s operations and bring more quality events to Miami Beach. Additionally, the new parking garage will be used for employee parking and will address a current need for additional parking for employees.”
Along with a parking garage, the five-story structure would include a grand ballroom, junior ballroom, meeting rooms, and a small rooftop area to be used primarily as a pre-function space. The application seeks setback variances for the structure, setback variances for the pedestrian bridge, and parking variances. The proposed pedestrian bridge is 90 feet long, 13 feet tall and would stand 40 feet above the street.
The architect is Don Wolfe, Nichols Brosch Wurst Wolfe & Associates.
If built, Marrero told the Planning Board, the amount of ballroom and meeting space per room key would increase from 59 sq. ft. to 80. “Not as high” as the Fontainebleau’s competitors, he said, “but high enough… it puts us in a competitive position.”
In the meantime, The Real Deal reported that the Fontainebleau’s $975 million commercial mortgage-backed securities loan went into “special servicing” on March 30 with discussions now taking place to modify the loan documents. Brett Mufson, president of Fontainebleau Development, wrote in an email to the publication that the special servicing status “by no means should be interpreted as our loan being in default or that we are behind on any payment.”
Renderings courtesy Nichols Brosch Wurst Wolfe & Associates
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