County wants to hire developer to upgrade, manage Miami airport hotel
By Paola Iuspa
County aviation officials are in the market for a developer to renovate, expand and find a manager to run the Miami International Airport Hotel.
Currently Miami-Dade County, through its aviation department, owns the 259-room hotel and is responsible for maintaining it through oversight of the hotel's management team. H. I. Development Corp., a hotel management, development and consulting firm, has been operating the facility for about 15 years, said Marta Guerra, director of sales and marketing for the company.
But the 43-year-old building needs work and aviation officials say they want out of the hospitality business and need a master developer to upgrade, maintain and manage the hotel, in the heart of Miami International's Concourse E.
"We are looking for a third-party developer to finance 100% of the remodeling," said Carlos Bonzon, deputy director of the aviation department's capital program.
Although Miami International is undergoing a $4.8 billion capital expansion, the hotel's face-lift is not part of the project to upgrade the terminal, runways and other transportation facilities at the airport. County officials want to sign a 40-year lease on the hotel with two five-year renewals and capitalize on the rent and concessions revenue, according to a draft of the county document to solicit developers' interest.
Plans to revamp the hotel have been on the drawing board for many years.
Prior to 9/11, the aviation department was planning to finance the hotel expansion. But those plans floundered after the terrorist attacks when passenger traffic took a dive, depressing the airport revenues that were proposed to fund some of the construction, Mr. Bonzon said.
Ms. Guerra said her company and the department talked many times about expanding the hotel together, but those plans have also evaporated. She said one of the many proposals consisted of building rooms in different areas throughout Miami International.
The hotel generates for the aviation department an average of $6 million in operating profits, according to the same document, boosted in part by sales of day rooms to passengers waiting for connecting flights. The hotel has one of the county's highest occupancy rates, Ms. Guerra said.
Based on an airport-commissioned study, the hotel competes with nearby chains like Hilton, Sofitel, Wyndham, Marriott, Radisson and Embassy Suites.
Aviation officials said they want the developer that is selected to renovate the hotel to finance the 24-month construction, including demolishing part of the existing building, remodeling the rest, adding meeting space and parking. Land across the roadway - in the airport's current short-term parking zone - will be available for the hotel's expansion, either for more rooms or a hotel parking garage, Mr. Bonzon said.
Leonora Allen Johnson, with the department's contract administration division, said developers interested in participating in next year's competitive process will be able to add their names to a candidates list in about three weeks.
The department early next year will request proposals from those applicants with experience in structuring and negotiating business and financial arrangement for major hotel projects, hotel financing and management and operating a hotel within an airport environment.
Aviation officials are still working on a timetable leading to the re-opening of the proposed remodeled hotel, county staff said.
Ms. Guerra said H. I. Development would submit a proposal if the requirements make economic sense.
"If it makes business sense," she said, "we will be interested in participating in the competitive process."