An ambitious but scandal-plagued plan to renovate Miami Beachs aging convention center, build a hotel and redevelop a prime swath of South Beach real estate is finally heading to a vote.
The Miami Beach Commission could decide Wednesday on a short list of architects, investors and developers who will compete to redesign the 55-year-old center and the surrounding 52 city-owned acres to the north of Lincoln Road.
Or, nearly a year after they agreed to put the redevelopment project out to bid, commissioners could throw the whole idea out.
Im hoping this doesnt get mired in politics tomorrow, said Commissioner Michael Góngora.
Interim City Manager Kathie Brooks and members of an evaluation committee have recommended that the project move forward, with two of five bidding teams making the cut. They are:
• Portman-CMC, a collaboration between Atlanta-based Portman Holdings, Miami developer Ugo Colombo, architect Bjarke Ingels, Cirque du Soleil and the Bal Harbour Shops.
• South Beach ACE, a team with New Yorks Tishman Hotel and Realty, architect Rem Koolhaas, and 1111 Lincoln Road developer Robert Wennett.
Teams on the citys short list will spend the next six months meeting with the public, crafting financing and development plans, and negotiating with the citys convention center consultant, Strategic Advisory Group. The hope is that whichever team is chosen to lead the project if any will not only design and build an iconic complex but also largely finance the project, which has been loosely estimated between $500 million and $1 billion.
All teams interviewed have good design firms for each major component, but the top two ranked firms also have more robust development experience that included raising private capital for ground-up construction, Jeff Sachs, managing partner of Strategic Advisory Group, wrote this month to Brooks.
The recommendation before commissioners is supported by the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association, and the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce, business boosters that have been lobbying for a convention center upgrade for years now.
Its long overdue, said William Talbert III, bureau president and CEO.
Once host to major conventions and events like the Republican and Democratic National conventions, the Beachs convention center hasnt had a major renovation since 1989 and has become more of a local trade show hub than attractor of hotel-filling conventions. Tourism officials like Talbert say Miami-Dades tourism-based economy needs a more competitive convention center to keep up with competitors around the country.
This most recent effort to improve the center began nearly three years ago, when the Miami Beach Commission paid local design firm Arquitectonica to plan a major expansion and redesign. But after a year of planning and failed attempts to secure outside government funding, commissioners rejected the firms monolithic, $640 million proposal and decided to seek proposals and investment from private business.
In January, they put a redevelopment project out to bid and asked developers to look at the 26-acre convention center site and another 26 city-owned acres as a blank canvas. Some 6 million square feet of convention and exhibition space, office towers, condos, shops, parks, shops and restaurants could be built, according to the citys request for qualifications, though city officials say its unlikely such a large project would be realized. Facilities like parking garages, city hall and the old Jackie Gleason Theater currently known as the Fillmore could be razed, as long as their uses are incorporated somewhere on site.
The proposal, however, has been dogged by concerns of bid-rigging, though prosecutors have said an ongoing investigation involving former purchasing director Gus Lopez has not turned up evidence of tainted bids.
Should the commission move the process forward, a vote on which has the best plan would be expected in June.
But, as evaluation committee member Martin Margulies pointed out last month when voting on the best teams, its difficult to say just how commissioner will vote.
They could say we dont want any of this, he said. Thats up to them.