Art Basel chief: We’re not going anywhere

12/04/2013 7:16 AM

12/04/2013 8:44 AM

Art Basel Miami Beach now feels confident the show can go on during an extensive renovation of the Miami Beach Convention Center, with fair executives backing off contingency plans that could have sent the major tourism event to San Francisco once construction began, Art Basel’s director said Tuesday.

Marc Spiegler said among the scenarios the fair explored in mapping out a renovation’s impact was to suspend Art Basel Miami Beach until it could use the center again, try to find space elsewhere in the Miami area, or move to another city, with San Francisco being an option.

But after meetings with city officials and Miami Beach’s designated developer for the project, Tishman, Spiegler said he’s convinced Art Basel can continue operating in the center despite a planned three-year renovation with an estimated cost of about $600 million.

“We’re not going anywhere,’’ he said in a telephone interview Tuesday on the eve of Art Basel Miami Beach launching its 12th year at the city-owned Convention Center. “Even a major renovation would not disrupt the smooth operation of the show.”

Spiegler said Basel’s team met with Tishman and city officials this summer, after commissioners selected the New York firm to oversee a $1 billion reconfiguring of both the center and the surrounding neighborhood. Tishman’s proposed construction schedule shows breaks in work each year between December and February, when both Basel and the Miami International Boat Show use all four halls in the center.

Though Spiegler said he’s confident of Tishman’s plan and the city’s commitment to accommodate Basel during a renovation, the future of the project remains uncertain. The original plan was thrown into turmoil this fall when a court tossed a ballot question needed to give Miami Beach final authority to proceed with the Tishman deal.

With a new mayor, Philip Levine, advocating a more modest renovation, it’s not clear whether Tishman will still pursue the convention-center project or what kind of renovation could win approval from commissioners and voters. Spiegler said he has not met with Levine or talked with Tishman executives in recent weeks.

Spiegler said he and other Basel executives worried enough about a renovation’s impact that this summer that they explored scenarios that would have it decamp South Florida for another state for the first time since 2002. Art Basel is the anchor of a week of festivals and fairs that have made the Miami home to one of the largest art events in the world.

“Obviously Art Basel is a business,’’ he said. “One of the things a business does is analyze risk. We looked at different scenarios.”

Last month, Spiegler walked the San Francisco convention center while in town to host a VIP reception for West Coast art luminaries. But he dismissed the tour as routine for someone who routinely visits expo centers around the world.

Spiegler declined to say what other cities were under consideration in Basel’s contingency planning, but he said the preparations never involved discussions with potential sites.

“I have never spoken with any official in any other city about this,’’ he said. Considering a Basel fair outside of Florida “was an extremis scenario because what we’ve built in Miami Beach is so strong.”

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