Marriott, Riviera Beach agree on resort

RIVIERA BEACH A $100,000 fund for job training and a pledge to give minorities 30 percent of the construction work: That's what it took to get the city council to approve Marriott's plan to raze the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Singer Island and turn it into a timeshare resort.

By a 3-2 vote, the council agreed to let Marriott Vacation Club International, the company's timeshare division, build two 19-story timeshare towers at 3200 N. Ocean Blvd. The beachfront property is home to the 193-room Crowne Plaza Hotel.

Council members Shelby Lowe, Norma Duncombe and Jim Jackson voted for the project, while council members Cedrick Thomas and Lynne Hubbard dissented.

The deal was struck late Wednesday after threats of tabling the vote and accusations that Marriott wasn't doing enough to provide opportunities for the city's residents. Marriott officials didn't want to risk waiting until the council's June 20 meeting for a vote.

Marriott's Peter Steinschulte rattled off a litany of "community benefits" in an effort to save the project from being tabled for the second time in about a month. At its May 2 meeting, the council postponed its vote without commenting, but later told Marriott it had to meet with Singer Island residents.

That meeting was May 24 at the Crowne Plaza, where some Singer Island residents opposed the timeshare concept. Instead, they wanted Marriott to upgrade the Crowne Plaza and keep it as a hotel.

In total, Marriott agreed to give Riviera Beach $1.4 million in cash contributions to consummate the deal. The bulk of the money - $1.2 million - goes to the city's minority housing trust fund, with $100,000 each going to Riviera Beach's job training fund and the beautification of A1A.

Edward Kinney, Marriott's vice president of corporate affairs and brand awareness, said Thursday that despite the last-minute wrangling, the company sees it as money well-spent. Marriott officials understood the social dynamics of Riviera Beach and sought ways to help the community, he said.

"We want to make sure the community embraces us," said Kinney, who is from the company's Orlando office. "We're looking for programs that give people chances to start in new areas (of business). Money going toward those programs will certainly help advance that."

Councilman Thomas wasn't satisfied with Marriott's offer. He told Marriott officials that he had read about its deal to build a $236 million hotel in Harlem and wanted similar benefits for Riviera Beach.

In the Harlem deal, the project is expected to create 1,500 construction jobs and 1,000 permanent jobs. Marriott promised to hire 25 percent of the hotel's staff from Harlem as well as making minorities 50 percent of the hotel's hourly employees.

The company also agreed to have 25 percent of the hotel's suppliers come from minority- and women-owned businesses.

Marriott officials here told Thomas that the Riviera Beach project will cost about $60 million. But the company did agree to have 20 percent of its purchases be from minority businesses and make minorities 60 percent of its operational staff at the resort.

That still wasn't enough to sway Thomas.

Jackson, who represents Singer Island, said he was prepared to table the vote again, suggesting that Marriott wasn't doing enough to support the city. Earlier in the week, Marriott had agreed to pay only $25,000 to the city's job training fund.

During a break at Wednesday night's meeting, Jackson shared his concerns with Marriott representatives and a deal apparently was struck.

"All of these developers are coming into the city and they want something," Jackson said. "I believe there ought to be some compensation for that."