Miami Beach commissioners Friday decided to move ahead with a vote to choose a development team for the city’s billion-dollar convention center project — despite new allegations that the city’s selection process is flawed and assertions that a decision is being “rushed.”
The latest allegations come from Commissioner Jonah Wolfson, who claims that members of the teams bidding on the project failed to register as lobbyists and therefore they — and their teams — should be banned. Wolfson has railed against the project since its inception and his latest contention relies on claims that were first whispered more than a year ago.
Commissioner Ed Tobin said Friday that more time was needed before a final decision is made.
“I don’t know why we have to be in such a super-duper rush,” Tobin said, later adding that it felt like “our pants were on fire.”
Commissioners rejected a motion by Tobin, and seconded by Wolfson, to delay the vote for another two weeks. The commission is scheduled to vote on the project on Wednesday.
Miami Beach first solicited bids for the convention center project in February 2012, and there have been about a dozen public meetings over many months since the South Beach ACE and Portman-CMC teams were shortlisted for the job.
But, city staff didn’t complete their formal analysis of the finalists’ bids until the wee hours of Friday morning; commissioners were sent a 38-page assessment of the deals at 12:48 a.m. Included in that package were 16 “key terms’’ that City Manager Jimmy Morales recommended as “a condition of selection,’’ including stipulating the fees for the architects and developers, among other things.
Morales declined to recommend one team over another. He cited a flap earlier this week after the Portman-CMC team was allowed to submit revised financial figures after a city deadline. The competing South Beach ACE team had suggested that was a violation of procurement law, and the city tossed Portman’s later submission.
“...Neither team can complain if my staff simply presents the facts to you and allows each of you to deliberate and vote in a legitimately public process,” Morales wrote in the city’s analysis.
Miami Beach’s convention center project has been described as the most important in the city’s history, and world-renowned developers and architects are vying for the deal. It encompasses 52 acres in the heart of South Beach, and includes the renovation of the city’s convention center, an 800-room hotel and leasing public land to private developers, who propose to build shops, restaurants and possibly apartments.
Wolfson’s lobbying complaint was given little attention by commissioners on Friday. When he first tried to bring it up, Mayor Matti Herrera Bower cut off his microphone.
“Your respect for the public discourse is astound(ing),” Wolfson said, unable to finish the last word before his mic was muted.
Wolfson has collected 5,000 signatures for a petition that could make it more difficult for the project to go forward, all while calling it a corporate giveaway that will cause a traffic nightmare in South Beach. In a letter delivered Friday to Morales and his fellow commissioners, Wolfson took aim at Robert Wennett, of the South Beach ACE team, and Jack Portman, of the Portman-CMC team.
Wolfson claims both failed to register as lobbyists, in violation of city code. Miami Beach has rules that allow the city to prohibit people or companies who commit certain violations from getting city contracts. Under certain conditions, violating lobbyist laws does trigger debarment.
In his latest attempt to quash the project, Wolfson revived year-old claims about Wennett. Wolfson’s letter said Wennett lobbied a city committee and commissioners about a maintenance agreement on Lincoln Road without first registering as a lobbyist.
Al Dotson, Jr., an attorney for ACE, said that city laws don't require someone to register as a lobbyist “when you have a contract with the city.’’
“It's not lobbying,’’ Dotson said.
Since January 2010, Wennett has had a contract with the city to maintain a portion of Lincoln Road near his 1111 Lincoln Road parking garage.
An attorney for Portman said he wasn't required to register, but that he did so on Friday afternoon.
“These are allegations,” City Attorney Jose Smith said at Friday’s meeting. “The appropriate venue to consider these allegations are either with the Dade County Ethics Commission, the debarment committee, or the state attorney’s office. I think there’s a process for these allegations to be considered and investigated and people should be afforded the right to due process.”
Also Friday, the city's legal department announced that both teams have signed reworked agreements not to sue if they aren't chosen for the deal. ACE had originally declined to a waiver, saying the proposal was too broad and maybe illegal.