Finally, it’s a go. The 55-year-old Miami Beach Convention Center will get the overhaul it so desperately deserves now that the Miami Beach City Commission has selected two teams of developers, architects and investors to proceed with the ambitious plan.
For years, tourism officials and hoteliers have fumed while they watched public funding from a hotel bed tax build sports venues and other projects while the outdated convention center languished. In a state whose economy relies heavily on tourism, local leaders have been frustratingly shortsighted when it comes to investing in a fundamental need: a bigger convention facility and attached hotel to attract larger groups. While Miami-Dade dithered, convention sites in Orlando and Atlanta have been eating our lunch.
Even the current plan has been fraught with drama, controversy and a lack of public financing.
But it will all have been worth it if the final plan to expand the convention center, build an 800-room hotel and convert the surrounding 26 acres north of Lincoln Road into a complex of mixed uses passes public muster. That last step is an important one. Whatever the ultimate design is, it will require approval from Miami Beach voters, guaranteeing the public input.
In the end, Miami Beach commissioners chose wisely in selecting the two teams charged with creating design proposals.
One team includes Portman-CMC, the developer who built the 14-block Peachtree Center in Atlanta, and its partners, Miami condo developer Ugo Colombo, Cirque du Soleil and the Bal Harbour Shops.
The other team includes South Beach ACE, which built Disney World’s Swan and Dolphin hotels’ resort complex; local developer Robert Wennet, who was instrumental in revitalizing Miracle Mile in Coral Gables; and renowned architect Rem Koolhas. These are heavy hitters with solid credentials to bring the convention center into the 21st Century.
What will require Miami Beach voters’ approval is the plan to develop a 6-million-square-foot mixed-use complex on land leased by the city.
The two teams have about six months to create development plans and propose financing. They must meet with the community to hear ideas and concerns about what would be appropriate in an area that includes a growing entertainment center and residential neighborhoods.
The lone dissenting city commissioner, Jonah Wolfson, rightly summed up locals’ concerns that this not become a development “on steroids.”
A lot of credit for this moment goes to Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower, who breathed life back into efforts to renovate the center in 2010.
But even she and tourism boosters couldn’t get commission approval for a $640 million expansion proposal or, in the end, secure enough public money to cover all the costs.
Instead, the City Commission came up with a sensible plan to seek private dollars to build and finance the project.
The cost could range from $500 million to $1 billion — hardly chump change.
But what it will bring in financial returns to both the city and the county can’t be overstated. William Talbert III, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, summed up the commission’s decision by saying:
“It’s a historic day here on Miami Beach and all over Miami-Dade County.”
We couldn’t agree more.