Miami Beach

Miami Beach advisory board backs Portman-CMC plan to overhaul convention center

As Miami Beach moves closer to selecting a development team to execute a $1 billion overhaul of the city’s convention center district, advisory boards are weighing in with their own recommendations.

On Tuesday, a slim majority of the Miami Beach Convention Center Advisory Board voted 4-3 to endorse the Portman-CMC plan over South Beach ACE’s.

Both teams are finalists for the project, which spans 52 acres in one of the most desirable locations in the nation: the heart of South Beach. The teams consist of big-time developers and world-famous architects who have competed in a months-long, public process.

Board members said they voted for Portman because of the team’s proposal to build a detached ballroom (rather than ACE’s ballroom, which is integrated into the convention center and hotel) and quicker build time (the feasibility of which ACE has questioned.)

Board Chairman Stuart Blumberg cast the deciding vote, saying that Portman’s phasing plan poses less of an impact on convention center operations during construction. Above all, the board is tasked with looking out for convention center operations.

“I hope attention is paid to this decision, because of course, the convention center itself is the reason for this plan as a whole,” said Jack Portman, vice chairman of Portman Holdings and John Portman & Associates.

The advisory board vote is just a recommendation. A planning board endorsement is expected later this month, and Chairman Charles Urstadt has written in a memo that he will support the ACE plan. Miami Beach’s city manager may weigh in with his own suggestion, too.

Also on Tuesday, the Palm View Historic District Association, which represents the residential neighborhood directly to west of the convention center, endorsed the South Beach ACE plan. Association leaders, who have been vocal in raising concerns over traffic and other impacts on the neighborhood, cited the ACE team’s responsiveness and the configuration in its plan of residential buildings and green space facing Palm View, among other factors.

All the recommendations are just fodder for city commissioners, who will likely choose a team during a meeting on July 17. Residents will make the ultimate decision, with a vote expected in November.

The city’s goal: to select a team that will overhaul its outdated, city-owned convention center, and add ballroom space and an attached hotel to make the center more competitive. The convention center is the third largest economic driver in the county, Blumberg has said, and helps fill Miami Beach hotels, which in turn pay bed taxes to the city.

As an incentive to developers — and to fund the massive project — the city is also offering public land surrounding the convention center for lease for private development.

Portman’s proposal centers around a “Miami Beach Square,” lined by the convention center, City Hall, a new cultural building and a freestanding ballroom.

The detached ballroom, Portman said, “activates the public space and helps make this a more people-oriented environment.”

The ballroom has become a main differentiator between the two plans, which became markedly similar after Portman changed its design to include a hotel around the top of the south end of the convention center.

The team has also proposed renovating the Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater, reworking 17th Street to make it more pedestrian-friendly and adding a cultural facility — all components that ACE proposed first.

Portman says its plan will be complete by the summer of 2017 — more than a year sooner than ACE’s proposal.

ACE has questioned the feasibility of its competitor’s building timeline. ACE knows construction: the team is led by New York-based Tishman Hotel and Realty, builders of the World Trade Center and the new One World Center. The company also touts among its credentials a recent renovation of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York, keeping that center in full operation throughout construction.

“The Portman phasing plan does not provide a realistic timeline or the necessary exhibit and meeting space that would enable the Convention Center to remain open and functioning for critical shows and exhibits during construction,” ACE representatives said in an emailed statement.

Follow @Cveiga on Twitter.

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