The readers’ forum

On Miami Beach convention center: Start over

 

Recently I delivered over 7,000 petitions signed by registered Miami Beach voters to the city clerk’s office. Joining me were supporters of Let Miami Beach Decide — a grassroots coalition that I chair. We are in favor of amending the city charter to require a referendum for the proposed mega development of the 52-acre Miami Beach Convention Center campus that must be approved with 60 percent support instead of a simple majority — the same percentage necessary to amend the Florida Constitution.

While we agree that renovating our aging and outdated convention center is vital to our long-term competitiveness in attracting business to our community, what is being proposed is simply corporate welfare.

Commissioners are being asked to award a contract to one of two finalists — Portman CMC or South Beach ACE. Miami Beach would be leasing the 52-acre campus to the selected developer for up to 99 years. The city would cede control of its most valuable land to an unaccountable private entity for a century.

If that sounds bad, it only gets worse.

Each developer has presented plans that are outside the scope of what’s necessary. The proposals include a 17- or 18-story, 600-800 room hotel and new entertainment and retail space all without any new options for public transportation. An already congested area would become unmanageable by this new space. Furthermore, the entertainment and retail areas will also have a negative impact on small businesses at the Lincoln Road Mall.

The plan amounts to a second Marlins deal for our community only at a higher cost given that each proposal is estimated to cost upwards of $1 billion. We are selling our quality of life so a handful of people can make an enormous amount of money.

Instead of all this excessive development, our city’s elected officials should be focusing on renovating the convention center. Thanks to the voter-approved bed tax increase, we have about $200 million available for that effort. Part of that comes from $55 million in general-obligation bond funds that have been available for 15 years. Let Miami Beach Decide is fighting for a responsible renovation that will not threaten to add more traffic, won’t hurt small businesses, nor threaten the historical nature of our neighborhoods.

The bid process itself is worrisome. The solicitation for bids was crafted by former City Procurement Director Gus Lopez who was indicted last fall on charges of bribery, bid rigging and receiving illegal compensation in unrelated solicitations. The current bid should be rewritten by a new member of our procurement team and the process should start over.

Our message is simple: Voters should have the ultimate say in what happens.

Jonah Wolfson, commissioner, Miami Beach

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