Miami voters must decide on future of prime riverfront land downtown. Here’s the plan

Posted on 11 October 2022 by Miami Herald

The James L. Knight Center complex and Hyatt Regency downtown could be transformed into a large complex of skyscrapers that would add to Miami’s skyline and create a new riverfront promenade, if voters approve the private redevelopment of public riverfront land.

Developers hope to secure a 99-year extension on an existing lease of city-owned land for the large redevelopment, called Miami Riverbridge, which would come with a $25 million contribution to the city for affordable housing. Voters in the city of Miami would have to approve the broad terms of the deal on Nov. 8. Under the city charter, voter approval is needed for a long-term lease of public land on waterfront property, and any changes to existing leases also need voters to sign off.

Hyatt Hotels Corp. has leased the city-owned property near the mouth of the Miami River at 400 SE Second Ave. since 1979. Hyatt, Gencom and Arquitectonica have proposed a $1.5 billion plan to build a three-tower structure that would include 615 hotel rooms, 1,500 market-rate apartments, 190,000 square feet of Class A meeting space and a public riverfront promenade. The project would add about 480 feet of beautified space to the Miami Riverwalk.

The existing blocky, concrete complex, completed in 1982, would be replaced with rounded, glassy facades. Two 61-story towers would include apartments, hotel rooms and extended-stay units. A third would rise more than 1,000 feet with 860 residential apartments. A “skybridge” with a restaurant would connect two of the three towers, providing a view of the city from 700 feet off the ground.

The skyscrapers would rest on a pedestal covering a large driveway that architects say would alleviate traffic in the area. The meeting space would replace the 612-room hotel, convention space and 4,500-seat auditorium on the four-acre site. that typically hosts concerts and graduation ceremonies.

Under the current lease terms, Hyatt would in 2027 have the option of renewing the lease for another 45 years. If the ballot item passes, the lease would be extended 99 years. Hyatt and Gencom have also committed to giving the city $25 million for affordable housing.

The Downtown Neighbors Alliance, a resident association of condo-dwellers, is supportive of the project but has some concerns about traffic flow and the quality of life, according to the group’s president, James Torres. Developers are meeting with downtown residents this week.

Ernesto Cuesta, president of the Brickell Homeowners Association, said he supports the plan after his group received a presentation.

“It’s a no-brainer,” Cuesta said. “This is going to be huge for our community. This redevelopment is long overdue.”

The Downtown Development Authority and the Miami River Commission have also expressed support for the plan.

Hyatt has spent years trying to redevelop the site under lease extensions. Previous proposals stalled in 2017 and 2018 when too few commissioners supported putting the question to voters. In July, commissioners voted 4-1 to hold the referendum on the current plan. Commissioner Joe Carollo was the lone no vote, citing issues with traffic in the area.