Following a year of turbulence, the Miami International Boat Show opened the gates to its new $24 million home on the water Tuesday and shared a sneak peek of its nearly mile-long campus surrounding the historic but abandoned Marine Stadium.
Where a weed-strewn parking lot once stood, enormous air-conditioned exhibition tents are bolted into new asphalt. In the placid, man-made basin, eight floating piers jut hundreds of feet into the water, forming the spine of a 420-slip temporary marina.
The graffiti-tagged, concrete hull of the stadium stands off-limits in the center of it all, lending an almost post-apocalyptic contrast to what on Feb. 11 will be a sea of customers teeming around shiny white tents, outdoor eateries and pricey vessels.
The whole production has taken more than two years from permitting to construction, and cost the National Marine Manufacturing Association more than $5 million. It also sparked an ongoing feud with environmentalists and the village of Key Biscayne, and more than one ongoing lawsuit that at times made the future of the show seem tenuous.
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Work is still under way. But executives and exhibitors behind the Super Bowl of marine trade shows say that, no longer landlocked at the Miami Beach Convention Center, they’re expecting the rebooted Miami International Boat Show to be the best ever.
It’s a beautiful, beautiful location. It almost feels custom-made for a boat show
Cathy Rick-Joule, director of the Miami International Boat Show
“This is a historical moment for all of us,” boat show director Cathy Rick-Joule said Tuesday morning on the docks behind Bayside Marketplace, one of seven water taxi stops for the show. “Moving this event has not been an easy task.... It’s a beautiful, beautiful location. It almost feels custom-made for a boat show.”
At the show’s new digs, roughly 800 boats will be exhibited on land on a brand new, $24 million outdoor exhibition space created by the city of Miami and souped up to meet the utility needs of the boat show. The vessels and hardware will be displayed beneath six air-conditioned “super structure” tents built by the Medley-based Eventstar in an area that spans roughly 800,000 square feet.
In the water, hundreds more vessels will be on display at a temporary marina that offers unmatched views of downtown Miami.
“This is the best venue I’ve ever seen,” said Dan Bowersox, the owner of Tees by Bo, a Miami-based company that will have two exhibits at the show. “This is going to be unbelievable.”
The Boat Show is among the most important tourist events each year for Miami-Dade County. The trade show draws an estimated 25,000 people each of its four days, and generates nearly $600 million in spending each year, according to an economic study commissioned by the NMMA and released last year.
The boat show’s headquarters event moved from its longtime home at the Miami Beach Convention Center this year due to renovations (Strictly Sail will be held again at Miamarina) and the National Marine Manufacturers Association leased the Marine Stadium grounds from the city for $1.1 million each year, plus a percentage of concessions.
The non-profit trade association also invested another $3.2 million into electrical upgrades on the site, and spent another $1 million to create more than 13,000 parking spaces on and off the island, deploy water taxis and shuttle buses, and hire scores of county and city police officers to handle a crush of traffic on the mainland and the Rickenbacker Causeway.
“It’s going to take us quite a few years to financially recover,” Rick-Joule said in an interview on the shore of the basin, where attendees will have unfettered views of the downtown Miami skyline. “But we’re in paradise.”
Environmentalists agree, noting that immediately on the other side of the stadium basin lies a protected critical wildlife area. County regulators have issued a series of conditions on permits for the event, and the county must review its permit next year. Glen Larson, owner of Marine Dock and Construction, which is erecting the temporary marina, said local, state and federal inspectors have all paid “surprise” visits to the site.
Larson said there are underwater cameras monitoring work, and called the show’s construction plans the “most environmentally sensitive” ever on the books. Still, activists and Key Biscayne officials warn that the sheer intensity of the show heightens the risk of complications and say they will watch closely for problems before, during and after the event.
Everything in Miami is a fight. But I think we’re getting there
Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado
Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, who helped steer the Boat Show back to Miami — where it was founded in 1941 — said he’s not worried.
“Everything in Miami is a fight. But I think we’re getting there,” he said back at Bayside. “I don’t want to claim victory.... but the only thing we need is good weather.”
Miami International Boat Show
When: Feb. 11 - 15
What: More than 1 million square feet of exhibitor space and 1,200 vessels will be on display at Marine Stadium
Tickets: Adults $20; Kids 15 and under are free
For more information visit www.MiamiBoatShow.com or call 954-441-3220