The operators of Jungle Island got the
final go-ahead from city commissioners Thursday to build a
hotel and a series of recreational features designed to
improve the long-struggling attraction’s fortunes by turning
it into an “eco-adventure” resort.
The 5-0 vote came
after Jungle Island’s owner, ESJ Capital Partners, wired
$804,000 in overdue rent to the city, a condition wary
commissioners insisted on when they gave an initial OK for
the expansion in late January. ESJ blamed the late rent on
the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced closure of most of
the attraction on publicly owned Watson Island for nearly a
“Congratulations, ESJ and Jungle Island,” Miami Commission
chair Ken Russell, whose district includes Watson Island,
told attraction representatives in attendance at the hearing
following the vote.
The approval of a complex lease agreement and a suite of
required zoning and land-use changes came more than two and
a half years after Miami voters overwhelmingly approved the
hotel proposal in a referendum.
Russell and fellow commissioners did insert one last-minute
amendment into the agreement with ESJ in response to
complaints from residents of a Venetian Islands condo that
sits across a narrow channel from Jungle Island on Biscayne
Bay. Venetian Causeway home and condo owners previously and
successfully pressed for changes to the planned
eco-adventure park’s layout to lessen potential impact on
An architectural rendering shows a conceptual design
for a planned hotel atop a parking garage at the Jungle Island
attraction on Watson Island. The hotel design is not final.