Miami Beach’s long, convoluted quest to overhaul its convention center district didn’t end at 11 p.m. Wednesday when commissioners picked a development team for the billion-dollar project.
From the design of the project to the ultimate cost, most everything is now up to negotiations, deliberations and, ultimately, a public vote on whether the city should lease its land for the project.
“The work is beginning,” said Commissioner Jerry Libbin.
Commissioners will meet Friday morning to draft ballot questions that will ultimately shape the scope of the project, which could include a half-billion-dollar renovation of the Beach’s aging convention center, a new 800-room hotel, shops, restaurants and possibly apartments.
Also Friday, commissioners will decide whether to seek a court order confirming the city attorney’s opinion that a proposed city charter change, which would make the project more difficult to pass in a public referendum, would not apply.
Beach commissioners on Wednesday chose South Beach ACE, a team that includes New York-based Tishman Hotel and Realty and Pritzker Prize-winning architect Rem Koolhaas, to remake the 52 acres of public land in the heart of South Beach.
Commissioners voted 5-2 in favor of ACE, whose competitor was Portman-CMC, led by the developers of Peachtree Center in Atlanta. Commissioners Jonah Wolfson and Ed Tobin cast the two dissenting votes.
Reached Thursday, Commissioner Deede Weithorn said she had planned to vote for Portman because of the lower public costs and quicker build time the team had proposed. The Portman bid was $52 million less than ACE’s, according to a city analysis of the public’s cost.
In the end, however, she voted for ACE, saying on Thursday she felt that was the direction of the commission.
“I feel strongly that the convention center needs to move forward and I want to make it the least controversial as possible,” she said. “We had a choice between gold and platnium, and that’s a good place to be.”
Commissioner Michael Góngora told the Miami Herald that his decision was based on ACE’s “iconic” design. The team’s plan calls for an undulating hotel atop the convention center. The hotel rises in the southwest corner to a peak of 194 feet, granting ocean views.
Góngora called it “something fantastic that would be a draw for tourists for many years to comeI felt like this was a once-in a lifetime opportunity to create an architectural gem.”
Libbin also told the Herald ACE’s design was a deciding factor. Libbin said the team’s plans for the convention center itself are more functional and that ACE has been open to changes he had proposed.
“When I talked to Portman, I didn’t get into the same level of detail with them about what they would or wouldn’t do,” Libbin said.
Before ACE can begin working, the public has to vote.
The city’s charter — the document that lays out Miami Beach’s rules — calls for voters to approve the sale or lease of much of the publicly owned convention center land. When commissioners meet to craft the ballot questions they want to pose, they’ll decide how much and which land to put out to vote.
Though there has been consensus among city officials for leasing land to build a hotel and retail space, commissioners have been non-committal about allowing apartments on the site. City Manager Jimmy Morales has suggested eliminating that part of the project and commissioners on Wednesday seemed to agree with him.