Like a fortress in an asphalt desert, the dated and underused Miami Beach Convention Center defines a dead zone at the heart of one of Americas most vibrant urban places.
As Miami Beach embarks on an ambitious push to overhaul the convention center and develop the surrounding sea of parking lots, its become one of the biggest opportunities for urban renewal in the country a 52-acre blank slate bordering some of the hottest real estate and tourism anywhere.
As outlined by Beach officials, the brief is a challenging one: Not just to recharge a sagging yet vital convention business, but to create a lush and lively district with a new hotel, apartments, public gardens and plazas, shops and restaurants, all carefully woven into the contiguous, and historic, city fabric.
This is the biggest deal for Miami Beach in a hundred years, since the city was incorporated, planning board member Henry Stolar said at a recent hearing.
So enticing is the opportunity that two of the countrys most prominent developers, Portman Holdings and Tishman Hotel and Realty, are vying for the project. Each is bolstered by teams of convention-center planners, financial advisers, park designers and two of the worlds leading architects: Bjarke Ingels Group for the Portman-CMC group, and the Office for Metropolitan Architecture, led by Pritzker Prize winner Rem Koolhaas, for Tishmans South Beach ACE group.
The city selected the finalists during an unusual, months-long public competition focused on design, finances and overall concept. Both plans are expected to cost more than $1.1 billion, roughly split between public and private sources.
The city wants to attract not only bigger meetings and shows, but also non-conventioneers all without sucking commerce from adjacent Lincoln Road Mall, choking the area with traffic, or creating yet another depopulated island cut off from the surrounding street life.
Each team started with sharply distinct visions about how to accomplish that.
South Beach ACE proposed slinging a curving 800-room hotel and ballroom space over the top of an undulating, rebuilt convention center, and renovating the Jackie Gleason Theater. A new cultural building would provide exhibition space. Mid-rise residential buildings would flank the sites western end.
The 17th Street Garage would be remade to include retail on the first floor, and two additional stories of parking would be topped with a strip of apartments. A revamped 17th Street would have an island-like median, making the hard-to-cross street more pedestrian-friendly.
Originally, Portman-CMC, with Bal Harbour Shops owners, pitched lots of high-end retail and demolition of the Jackie Gleason Theater to erect a freestanding hotel in its place, as well as a makeover of the 17th Street Garage. Four low-scale apartment buildings would line Meridian Avenue, with more units along the convention centers Washington Avenue facade.
The plans most distinct elements: a freestanding ballroom building that architects say would activate the area; it would flank a Miami Beach Square dotted with shops and restaurants.
Both plans incorporate significant open areas, shade trees, rich landscaping and gardens. Each also calls for a park at the north end, between the convention center and Collins Canal. Truck loading and parking, which neighbors have long complained about, would be concealed.