Not so fast, said a state appeals court last week to Miami Beach, which was finally on the cusp of redeveloping its convention center. Of course, nothing has been fast or easy throughout the city’s decade-long struggle to construct a facility to attract the big-ticket conventions that are finding more-alluring accommodations just about anywhere but here.
With less than two months to go before Beach voters were going to say yea or nay to renovating the convention center — subsidized in part by the hotel bed tax — the Third District Court of Appeal wiped the referendum off the ballot. It ruled that the city has to present voters with more detailed terms of the $1 billion proposal first.
After more than 10 years of trying to make a bigger convention center a reality to attract high-end conventions, the City Commission must now propel itself with a sense of urgency. San Diego and Orlando are eating our lunch.
That said, the process still will not be an easy one, especially if the goal is to hammer out the details of a contract and lease agreement with New York-based developer Tishman, chosen in July to build the complex that will also feature a hotel, parking and retail, in time for a special election in spring 2014, as City Manager Jimmy Morales foresees. The hurdles are high, but not insurmountable.
If, as Mayor Matti Bower told the Editorial Board on Tuesday, Tishman “will be here” instead of running for the hills, then it’s imperative that the city and developer flesh out who pays for what and how much revenue the city is guaranteed from leasing the land. This is what the court said voters need to know going in, and this is what the city should provide as part of the ballot language. There is a letter of intent between the city and developer to move forward. Not good enough, the court ruled.
Hurdle No. 1, however, is the upcoming election with three seats up for grabs. Incumbents gave Tishman the nod, but several opponents prefer a scaled-down version of a center. Skepticism about a project that has been vetted publicly cannot be allowed to derail a revamped center. Already, conventions are tentatively booked for 2016 and 2017 on Miami Beach. It would be egregiously irresponsible to turn them away.
Hurdle No. 2? There remains on the November ballot a question to increase to 60 percent from a simple majority the number of votes needed to award an extended lease for the convention center and surrounding areas.
Keep in mind, last year, 67 percent of Miami Beach voters approved increasing hotel taxes an additional 1 percent to help pay the Beach’s share of the $1 billion. In all, about $600 million in public funds would go to build the convention center, paid with a mix of hotel and property taxes from the city and Miami-Dade County. But if voters approve a 60-percent threshold, that would lead to . . .
Hurdle No. 3: The courts will then have to decide whether the 60-percent rule applies retroactively to the Tishman project. In fact, city officials asked the court for a decision, citing previous legal cases and prior city practice involving the uncontested auction of city property in North Beach about 10 years ago. That’s when the court pivoted, threw out the referendum and didn’t rule on the original question.
Miami Beach must come back from this setback, by acting swiftly and responsibly — and with the urgency the quest for a new convention center demands.
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