Miami Beach Nixes $1 Billion Convention Center District Plans

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Were you anticipating the redesigned convention center in Miami Beach? Well, looks like you will have to continue waiting. The new mayor has canceled the overhaul with a $1 billion price tag, which has been years in the making. Everyone was anticipating this all around the world, when Miami Beach dreamed of upgrading the area surrounding the convention center with new shops, hotels, and restaurants.

Ties were severed with South Beach ACE, the team responsible for the transformation of the 52-acre area chosen by city commissioners back in July. The city plans to put out a new bid, this time exclusively for renovating the convention center. Another bid will be put out for the development of a hotel, a separate project altogether. This is a far cry from the bundled developments called for in the original bid.

Why Renovate?

Those who have set up an exhibit booth there can tell you the convention center needs to be refreshed, brought more up-to-date, and feature a hotel to compete successfully with other centers. This will help the city to bring in more of those all-important tourist taxes, a major contributor to the city’s budget.

Why Change The Plan?

Don’t misunderstand the move – it isn’t that they want to cancel the plan entirely, just change it up a bit. It’s all in the name of timeliness, according to the Mayor Philip Levine. Rather than altering the plans already in place, he feels scrapping it all and starting on a blank page is the best idea to complete the project more quickly.

What usually gets in the way of any city project moving forward? If you said “politics,” you’re correct! The old project, as it was initially formulated, required that 60 percent of voters approved negotiating leases. To get the project moving, ACE was required to lease land belonging to the city within the convention center district. The city rules require a referendum prior to the leasing of any land. The new plan negates the need for a referendum, as there is no land that needs to be leased. Therefore, it is completed in a timely manner and falls within the projected budget.

What The People Want 

The decision wasn’t reached easily. It is believed the voters were providing a clue after they elected an almost entirely new City Commission. Any incumbents who were behind the massive project were voted out.

One commissioner feels the people misunderstood the project thanks to the misinformation provided by just over half a million dollars in advertising. This commissioner, Ed Tobin, referred to the entire ad campaign as “mostly false.”

Those commissioners who weren’t in favor of the project moving forward felt it was too massive, both in size and price, and started up campaigns to remove the issue from the November ballot altogether. Led by Commissioner Jonah Wolfson, it ended up being successful. In addition, Wolfson moved to change the percentage of voters required to approve land leases within the convention center district, which was also successful. It moved from a simple majority to 60 percent of voters.

Now What?

ACE was handpicked out of a number of world-renowned architects who all wanted to change the look of South Beach’s convention center. The city believed the land leases would provide the funds to fuel the renovation. However, without the leases, where does that leave the project? Renovating the center is much needed, but does it matter without a hotel? Probably not. And making it more difficult to obtain land to build the hotel on make the project even more complicated.

ACE is understandably upset to lose such a big contract, and has sent a letter to city commissioners letting them know that they are “contractually obligated to proceed.” They claim that they made it known from the beginning that they were flexible and would work well within the parameters provided by the administration, but they were never given a chance to try to accommodate these changes.

The President of the American Institute of Architects, John R. Forbes, wrote to commissioners informing them their 16,000-member convention won’t be returning to Miami Beach again. Why? After their convention in 2010, they said it was because of the “substandard design aesthetic,” the condition of the center itself which they refer to as “abhorrent,” outdated technology, lack of air conditioning, and the biggest offense, the lack of a hotel.

The mayor hopes that this situation resolves itself soon. The city-owned center could bring in much revenue, but only if things change. The city is hoping this next bid proposal for renovations is ready to go in March. The separate hotel project bid is expected at some point in April.

Have you ever set up a trade show booth at the Miami Beach Convention Center? What did you think, and do you agree that renovations are long overdue?

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