|By Elaine Walker, The Miami
HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Sept. 15, 2011--The Genting Group on Wednesday doubled the footprint for Resorts World Miami as part of a calculated step to win support for a gambling license from the Florida Legislature.
Genting purchased the $161 million note on the troubled Omni Center from Miami real estate investors Jorge Perez, Jimmy Tate and Sergio Rok. The deal, whose purchase price was not disclosed, gives Genting control over the entire $206 million mortgage on the Omni, which is currently in the midst of foreclosure. Genting purchased the other $45 million note last week.
The plan: turn Omni into the first stage of Resorts World Miami with the ability to open a casino with restaurants, bars and entertainment facilities as soon as Fall 2012 -- within months of receiving potential approval from state legislators for a gambling license.
"The Omni acquisition is a strategic acquisition that answers the Legislature's concerns about where are the jobs," said Colin Au, a Genting principal. "We are taking a calculated risk. We are responding to the concerns and trying to create jobs as fast as possible. The Omni is what's called a decorator-ready solution."
By combining the Omni Center with the Miami Herald property and the Checkers site Genting purchased on Biscayne Boulevard, the Malaysian conglomerate has now assembled about 30 acres. While Genting must still complete the foreclosure process on the Omni property, company officials remained optimistic Wednesday that they could reach an amiable resolution with property owner Argent Ventures and gain control of the site within a few months.
The Omni mortgage acquisition came on the same day Genting unveiled its $3 billion master plan for Resorts World Miami.
The mixed-use project is unlike anything South Florida has seen in terms of sheer magnitude and design. With plans for four hotels, two condominium towers, more than 50 restaurants and bars and a luxury retail shopping mall, it's being billed as one of the largest projects in the state.
The design of the 10 million-square-foot development draws inspiration from the region's coral reefs. The centerpiece is a 3.6-acre outdoor lagoon -- equivalent to 12 Olympic-size swimming pools and surrounded by natural sand beaches -- that would allow visitors to literally swim from Biscayne Boulevard to the edge of Biscayne Bay.
"This will put Miami on the map and make it a destination," said Bernardo Fort-Brescia, co-founder of Arquitectonica, which is designing the project. "Miami has not seen resorts of this importance, Orlando has and maybe Las Vegas. This will make Miami more than competitive. It will have an advantage."
By acquiring Omni, Genting is in position to speed up the development of Resorts World Miami and offer an immediate benefit of revenue generation and new jobs. The casino would go in the empty 650,000 square feet that once housed the Omni Mall, a process that Genting officials say would take minimal structural work. The Hilton Hotel, existing office tenants and parking garage would remain. An Omni casino would create 5,000 permanent jobs and $100 million per year of taxes for state and local governments, Genting said.
Miami state Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera was both skeptical and intrigued by the idea.
"It's interesting, I would like to see how they would accomplish that," said Lopez-Cantera, the House Republican leader. "I would want to see all the details. That's a lot of jobs they're talking about."
Genting Chairman KT Lim said Resorts World Miami would create 15,000 direct and indirect construction jobs plus 30,000 permanent positions. But that impact would take until the project's completion. Lim said the earliest completion date would be Fall 2014. Genting expects to be ready to begin site work on the Miami Herald land as early as Spring 2012. The 13.9-acre Herald property was purchased in May for $236 million, and the newspaper has the option to remain in the building rent-free for two years.
Jobs and revenue creation are the key selling points that Genting expects to use in its quest to gain state approval for casino gaming. A proposed bill for the coming legislative session seeks approval for two gambling destination resorts in Miami-Dade County and one in Broward County.
While Lim says he will continue to develop the site without gambling, the timeline and the project could be dramatically different.
"If nothing happens [with gaming] it would be the biggest tragedy when unemployment is so high and here you have something that could create immediate jobs," Lim said. "I strongly believe this can be the agent of transformation that can turn Miami into a real city."
Resorts World Miami's four hotel towers with more than 5,200 rooms would increase Miami-Dade County's hotel room inventory by just over 10 percent and give large groups a reason to come for events that could be held in the property's convention and meeting space. The project's largest hotel would have about 2,000 rooms, making it about 25 percent bigger than the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, currently the largest hotel in the market. The second and third largest hotels would be just slightly smaller than Fontainebleau.
Genting is not the only major casino operator seeking approval for a resort gaming license in Florida. Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts have also been lobbying state officials. A proposed bill would allow three licenses in South Florida.
"Competition is good," Lim said. "The best should win. Hopefully we have done enough and continue to do enough to prove we are the best."
The plans unveiled Wednesday are all designed around an eight-level podium that takes up the majority of the Herald site. Within the podium are the bulk of the retail, restaurants, entertainment, convention center and proposed casino. The four hotel towers and two condo towers rise above the podium like candles on a birthday cake.
The details include:
-- Each of the four hotels would cater to a different clientele: family hotel -- 2,000 rooms, luxury hotel -- 1,200 rooms, convention hotel -- 1,300 rooms and boutique hotel -- 750 rooms.
-- Two residential condo towers with 1,000 units sitting behind the Boulevard Shops on Biscayne Boulevard.
-- More than 50 restaurants, lounges, bars and nightclubs, ranging from fine dining to buffets and a food court for a total of 700,000 square feet.
-- About 60 luxury shops, plus a marketplace for a total of 250,000 square feet.
Convention and meeting space totaling 750,000 square feet, including a 200,000-square-foot ballroom.
-- Entertainment facilities include a cinema and an interactive museum.
Parallels were drawn between Miami and Singapore in describing the impact the opening of Resorts World Sentosa has had on changing the tourism and economic landscape since it opened two years ago.
The majority of the revenues in Singapore -- 70 percent -- come from non-residents, a pattern Genting expects to continue with Resorts World Miami's drawing the bulk of its guests from Latin America, Europe and elsewhere in North America.
Genting estimates that if two destination gambling resorts are approved for Miami, there would be a 30 percent growth in airline revenues -- 5.4 million more airline passengers and another $2 billion in revenue for the airlines and $170 million in additional fees for Miami International Airport. The hotel industry would see a 50 percent gain in revenue or about $1 billion.
Genting has hired Washington Economics Group and Ardvin Laffer Moore to conduct independent studies to verify the economic impact of Resorts World Miami and destination resorts. The results are expected within a month.
"Resorts World Miami will be someplace that's unique and people will want to come to Miami to experience it," Lim said. "It will be the face of Miami -- hopefully."
Herald staff writers Marc Caputo and Hannah Sampson contributed to this report.
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