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Miami City Commission Punts Again On Redevelopment Of Downtown Hyatt, Convention Center

The ambitious redevelopment of the Hyatt Regency Hotel and James L. Knight International Center in Downtown Miami stalled at a Miami City Commission meeting Monday, the third time in five weeks the city's governing body has failed to advance the project.

Miami Riverbridge plans call for a 615-key Hyatt hotel and more than 1,500 apartments across three towers.

A special meeting was called to discuss and vote on a resolution that would have authorized the city manager to negotiate a new ground lease at the hotel portion of the property with HRM Owner LLC, a partnership between Hyatt and Miami-based hospitality investor Gencom. At least four of the city commission’s five members would have to vote in favor of the resolution for it to pass. 

District 3 Commissioner Joe Carollo, who lost a $63M verdict this month for using code enforcement to retaliate against developers in Little Havana, didn't attend the meeting. District 1 Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla was also absent. That left the three remaining commissioners — Manolo Reyes, Sabina Covo and Christine King — unable to advance the resolution.

The resolution has been on the city commission agenda since May 11 and was deferred twice before Monday’s special meeting. If it eventually passes, the resolution will still require a final reading before it is enacted. A new hearing hasn't been scheduled. 

Hyatt has been trying to redevelop its 41-year-old hotel on the Miami River since 2017, and it will have to keep waiting a little longer. 

Several residents and hotel workers spoke in favor of the project at the meeting, as did a union official representing more than 200 of the hotel’s employees. Javier Aviñó, a lawyer at Bilzin Sumberg representing the hotel owner, presented details of the development plan. 

The project, called Miami Riverbridge and located at 400 Southeast Second Ave., would replace the hotel and convention center with three towers that would house a new 615-room Hyatt Regency and more than 1,500 apartments. It would have 188K SF of convention and meeting space, 50K SF of public outdoor space and an upgraded 480-foot stretch of riverwalk. 

Miami Riverbridge has been in the works since at least 2021 when the city partnered with the property owner to explore a redesign or renovation. In November, 64% of Miami voters approved a ballot measure that extended the ground lease at the property for 99 years and cleared the way for the property’s redevelopment.

If approved, the redevelopment is expected to bring in more than $1.5B in taxes, fees and rent. It would also add around 550 jobs at the hotel and convention center, which already employs around 350 people, according to Aviñó’s presentation.

The resolution would also require the property owner to contribute $25M to the city for affordable housing. Hyatt and Gencom would pay $1M in rent each year with $250K annual escalations during construction, and they would pay a minimum of $2.5M in rent annually once the project is built. Aviñó said at Monday’s meeting he expected rent payments to be closer to $6M annually.

Hyatt and Gencom also agreed to offset some of the layoffs that would come with the hotel’s demolition, Unite Here representative Wendi Walsh said at the meeting.

Walsh, whose union represents hospitality workers at the Hyatt Regency, said the owners agreed to rehire workers from the old hotel when the new location opens, provide severance pay for employees who decide to leave and offer skills training to ease employees' transition to other roles. 

The Hyatt hotel and convention center first opened on a 4-acre site in 1982. Hyatt partnered with a firm founded by Atlanta developer Earl Worsham to build the 612-room hotel after agreeing to a long-term ground lease with the city. The hotel includes 47K SF of meeting space and the Miami Convention Center, which adds 56K SF of convention space.  

The adjacent Knight Center opened the same year after being developed as a joint venture between the city, the University of Miami and Worsham. The convention space is now wholly owned by the city and includes a 16K SF theater that seats 4,569 people, a 6K SF auditorium and around 12K SF of meeting rooms. 

In January 2022, the city approved a partial sale of the leasehold interest that allowed Hyatt to partner with Gencom on the redevelopment project.