Right type of amenities could give Jungle Island the push it needs improve fiscal situation
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
With Jungle Island hurting financially, adding components like a hotel and retail complex to the park is a gamble some think could work.
"The right kind of hotel incorporated into the Jungle (Island) park could do well depending on what kind of hotel it is," said Guy Trusty, a hospitality consultant.
Jungle Island officials should stay away from building a four-star hotel because of other high luxury hotels going up in the vicinity, such as the Island Gardens development, which is to include a Shangri-La Hotel, said Mr. Trusty, president of Lodging & Hospitality Realty.
Mr. Trusty said a hotel facility that appeals to families and mainstream tourists could complement the park well. "I don't think it gets any better," he said as to the potential those additions could add to the complex.
Location is a big advantage for Jungle Island, because the complex is by the water, right off downtown Miami and close to Miami Beach, he said.
The Miami City Commission approved an amendment to the Jungle Island lease where the words hotel, retail and entertainment were added to set the ground for future expansion.
Mr. Trusty said this change was probably necessary to solidify any negotiations with interested parties. "They have to know what they can do on the land before they make any type of contractual agreement," he said.
Ronald Krongold, co-owner with Dr. Bernard Levine of 18-acre Jungle Island, said the park is in talks with several developers who have done theme-related hotel projects.
Mr. Krongold said the idea is to build a jungle-theme hotel with retail and entertainment components, similar to theme park attractions such as Walt Disney World or Busch Gardens, but in this case using the Jungle Island brand.
If plans solidify, this could the first Disney World-type complex in South Florida, Mr. Trusty said, adding that another competitor is looming at Metrozoo.
In July, the county commission approved land-use changes to that property. The county has plans to build an entertainment center, 23-acre water park and hotel next to Metrozoo.
But Mr. Trusty said the problem with Metrozoo is its location at far south end of the county. That's why he thinks location could be key to the success of Jungle Island's expansion.
Mr. Krongold said he hopes the Jungle Island development brings more tourists to Miami as the park needs them.
The park's multi-million-dollar relocation to Watson Island doesn't seem to be paying off. The park stopped paying a loan the county took out to help pay for the relocation.
Mr. Krongold said although he has seen improvements, this season for example, the frequent hits and threats of hurricanes have scared off tourists.
"We are struggling in the park to keep our numbers," he said. "They are getting better but the hurricanes have affected" attendance.
On the other hand, Mr. Krongold said the park's 25,000-square-foot catering facility with capacity of up to 5,000 people is doing "fantastic" as it's constantly the location of big-ticket dinners and events.
Mr. Trusty, the hospitality consultant, agrees running a successful catering business is challenging, so the facility could complement a hotel well. He said park officials should consider including a restaurant.
A "traditional" hotel makes economic sense for Watson Island, with or without the park's presence, he said. "That kind of hotel would do fine there and adding the Jungle (Island) and meeting facility makes it more attractive."