ACE would bury loading and a garage under its park at the north end. Portman would bring trucks and cars into the convention center building, with loading and parking behind the Washington Avenue apartments.
But an outcry over losing the Gleason and city concerns over competition for Lincoln Road merchants forced Portman back to the drawing board to slash its retail and preserve the theater. As a result, the team moved its hotel to the top of the convention center much like ACEs. Portman added a Latin American culture museum to the mix, as well as a median on 17th Street.
ACE cried foul, setting off a flurry of competing press releases and biting Twitter exchanges. ACE accused its competitors of hijacking its best ideas, labeling it copy-tition. Portman parried, saying its willingness to alter its plans demonstrated responsiveness to community concerns.
The public spat has focused on some critical and technical details, including which convention center reconfiguration works best, whose truck loading and traffic-management schemes is most effective, who provides the most usable open space, and which is a better financial deal for the city.
An analysis by a city consultant concluded Portmans would require $73.4 million less in public money, but ACE says the difference is mainly due to the larger amount of retail in Portmans plan, which increases lease payments to the city.
The construction time required for each project has also become a sticking point. Portman says it would finish the project by the summer of 2017 13 months ahead of ACEs timeline. But ACE, whose leadership is building the new One World Trade Center at Ground Zero in New York, has questioned whether Portmans timeline is really feasible.
Each scheme has drawn support from convention center users. The organizers of the boat show, one of the largest convention center users, has endorsed ACEs plan, while some prominent convention planners support Portmans.
Dazzling renderings and dueling assertions aside, the plans are merely conceptual and subject to significant change. Everything would be determined by negotiation after a winning team is selected by the city commission. Beach voters will sign off on the scheme in a public referendum.
Already, some commissioners have questioned the need for apartments on site and worry out loud about traffic, and the bulk of the combined convention center and hotel.
At a recent hearing, some planning board members questioned whether the plans generous greenery could generate the kind of urban activity the city wants, or whether denser building and more tightly defined public spaces are needed. Jean-Francois LeJeune, an architecture professor at the University of Miami, chided both proposals as too suburban for South Beach.
They both seem afraid of creating real urban spaces, he said. Im afraid a lot of those green spaces will be empty when theres no convention in town.
Assistant City Manager Jorge Gomez agreed that retail development would be key, and stressed those details could well change. He urged board members, who will provide their own comments on the plan, to focus on the big picture.
Thats what youre buying youre buying the vision, he said.
City administrators, meanwhile, said they are still analyzing the developers formal proposals as compared to the citys advertised goals. The commission is scheduled to make its selection at a special meeting July 17.
Editors note: A story on page 1M Sunday (Tropical Life) by Beth Dunlop incorrectly features an older rendering of the South Beach ACE plan. The latest rendering can be found at MiamiHerald.com ( www.miamiherald.com/2013/06/14/3451767/designs-for-miami-beach-convention.html).