Hyatt Hotels Corp. and two local firms are planning to unveil a new design for a long-stalled redevelopment of the chain’s Regency hotel downtown and the city’s 40-year-old James L. Knight Center complex.
The concept, which will be presented for the first time Tuesday morning to a subcommittee of the Miami River Commission, would transform the convention center complex, completed in 1982, into a three-tower structure that would add contours to Miami’s growing skyline.
It would create a public promenade along the riverfront with green space and a terraced entrance to restaurants. Renderings provided to the Miami Herald show rounded, glassy facades stretching into the sky would replace the shorter, blockier concrete exterior.
One of a list of aging city-owned sites eyed for redevelopment for years, the property near the mouth of the Miami River at 400 SE Second Ave. currently has auditoriums, meeting space and a 612-room hotel run by Hyatt under a long-term lease executed in 1979. Under existing terms, Hyatt would in 2027 have the option of renewing the lease for another 45 years.
Hyatt previously presented plans in 2017 and 2018, though the matter never made it to the ballot. Now, Hyatt has tapped a Miami-based team including developer Gencom and Arquitectonica to design a new vision for a complete overhaul of the property. The team will ask the city to extend the lease for another 99 years.
The financial terms of the proposal are still being negotiated and land appraisals are not yet complete, according to Miami City Manager Art Noriega’s administration. The city commission is not expected to consider a complete proposal until late June. Any deal would need voter approval under a city law that requires a referendum for long-term leases of city-owned waterfront property. The developers plan to ask commissioners to place the question on the November ballot.
For now, the development team is focused on introducing the new design concept in hopes of gaining traction with City Hall and other civic leaders.
“We would hope the architecture of the site would become a postcard shot of Miami,” said Phil Keb, executive vice president of Gencom.
The plan calls for a complex with 615 hotel rooms, more than 1,500 market-rate apartments, revamped meeting space and a transformed public riverwalk. Two 61-story towers would include apartments, hotel rooms and extended-stay units, and a third rising more than 1,000 feet would hold 860 residential apartments. A skybridge with a restaurant would connect the two shorter towers, with a view of the city from 700 feet off the ground.
The towers would rise above a massive pedestal that would hold about 190,000 square feet of meeting space, replacing the current convention space and the 4,500-seat auditorium that has hosted graduation ceremonies, concerts and, in the early days, University of Miami basketball games.
The ground-floor structure would also conceal a large circular driveway with multiple lanes for arrivals and drop-offs — a feature designers say will prevent long car queues from spilling out into streets already choked with traffic.
“We had to deal with the reality of cars,” said Bernardo Fort-Brescia, Arquitectonica co-founder, in an interview with the Herald. “The drop-off became a priority.”
Fort-Brescia and fellow architect Alejandro Gonzalez said they sought to give the space a “sense of arrival” that would at once be functional for cars and welcoming for pedestrians walking from downtown or getting off the Metromover.
The plan’s potential to upgrade the ground-level experience on the riverfront and even on the street-side along Southeast Fourth Street is appealing to Neal Schafers, head of urban planning for the Downtown Development Authority. He said with outdoor dining and grassy areas planned for the riverfront and new drop-off, the concept has promise. “From what I’ve seen in the proposed design, it would be fixing issues on one side with riverside activation and hopefully fixing ingress and egress issues on the north side,” he said.
Last week, the development team presented the vision to Commissioner Ken Russell, whose district includes the site. He told the Herald he was pleased to see green space and a more inviting riverwalk concept in the designs. He said the proposal is an upgrade from the last designs presented to the commission about four years ago.
One aspect of the plan expected to spark more conversation: All of the apartments are planned to be leased at market rates, which would mean more sky-high rents in downtown Miami. In a city facing a housing affordability crisis that continues to get worse, Russell and other commissioners could push the developers to rent out some units below market rates.
“This project does not address our affordable housing crisis in any way, so we need to see how this fits in with our goals,” Russell said.
Keb, the Gencom executive, said his team is anticipating the housing discussion.
“Whether that will be onsite or at other locations, yes, there is an affordable or workforce housing component that will be part of the overall project,” he said.
The design has already incorporated some feedback that Russell gave four years ago, including the emphasis on beautifying the riverfront and creating an inviting space for residents and tourists. The development team’s approach to presenting the concept is different this time, said James Francque, Hyatt’s global head of transactions.
“Before, it was Hyatt taking the lead in terms of speaking with city commissioners, speaking with the real estate department of the city of Miami,” Francque said. “Ultimately, we concluded that we needed to step back and switch this up. We selected our local partners before we started having these conversations.”
If a complete redevelopment is not endorsed by either the commission or the voters, Hyatt will still have rights to operate on the site for another 50 years. Francque said at that point, the conversation could shift to upgrading existing facilities, but his team feels a broader redevelopment is a better fit for downtown.
“From my perspective it’s very feasible to do it,” Franque said. “Everyone seems to be working in the same direction.”