A dramatic, at-times precarious plan for a 52-acre overhaul of Miami Beach’s dowdy convention center and the surrounding city-owned land north of the Lincoln Road Mall is moving forward.
The Miami Beach Commission voted 6-1 Wednesday to pursue its long-delayed project to renovate and expand the convention center, build an 800-room hotel and convert the surrounding land into a potentially 6-million-square-foot complex.
Developers, architects and investors have been vying since January to design and plan the project, projected between $500 million and $1 billion. Of the eight teams that submitted bids, two teams will now move on to meet with the community, craft development plans and propose financing.
• Portman-CMC, led by Portman Holdings, the developer behind the 14-block Peachtree Center in Atlanta, Miami condo developer Ugo Colombo and Cirque du Soleil and the Bal Harbour Shops.
• South Beach ACE, led Tishman Hotel and Realty, which developed the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin, local developer Robert Wennett, who helped revitalize Coral Gables’ Miracle Mile and built the 1111 building on Lincoln Road, and world-renowned architect Rem Koolhaas.
“It’s a historic day here on Miami Beach and all over Miami-Dade County,” said William Talbert III, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, which books conventions. “These companies are very smart. They’re very creative. Mark this date down.”
Hoteliers, business boosters and tourism officials like Talbert have been lobbying for years to renovate the convention center, built in 1957 and last renovated in 1989. The facility still hosts events like Art Basel and the Miami International Boat Show but is bleeding business as other cities around the county improve and expand their facilities and lure away conventions.
Mayor Matti Herrera Bower renewed renovation efforts in early 2010. But after a $640 million expansion was rejected and attempts to secure extra public financing failed, the City Commission agreed in January to seek out private business to build, finance and plan something “iconic.”
“We need to move this forward. It has to happen,” she said Wednesday.
The project has been delayed and nearly derailed by a bid-rigging and corruption investigation. But prosecutors recently said none of the teams’ bids had been tainted, so commissioners felt comfortable moving forward.
Now, a first community meeting with the developers is expected next month. Each team likely has about six month before the next City Commission vote on which has the best proposal, at which time designs and funding plans will be clearer.
“Now the time is not to talk. Now the time is to first listen. We’ve talked to scores of people already,” said Jack Portman, vice chairman of Portman Holdings. “Once we are able to absorb all that, then it’s time to show you what kind of development we can do.”
Some concerns remain about the potential scope of the project, which is in the middle of an entertainment hub and next to residential neighborhoods. Commissioner Jonah Wolfson, the lone dissenting voter, worried the project would result in a development “on steroids.”
But whatever plan is accepted by the City Commission is expected to go before the voters, because developers are expected to negotiate long-term land leases of public land.
Paul Diamond, executive vice president of Tishman, said the community will get the project it wants.
“We want to get to work,” he said, “and prove to you that we’re going to get you the right master plan and the right product.”