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Public to weigh in on Miami Beach Convention Center renovation

Plans to renovate the aging Miami Beach Convention Center are inching forward with a series of public workshops — despite lingering accusations that the process has been tainted by a corruption scandal.

City officials want residents to weigh in on development ideas for the 52-acre site that includes the convention center, parking lots, the Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater and City Hall, projected to cost up to $1 billion.

The first meeting will take place at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Convention Center.

“It’s not for the developers to present their ideas at this point,” Commissioner Jerry Libbin said. “It’s for the public to say, ‘This is what we want,’ or, ‘This is what we’re concerned about.’  ”

The city has already chosen two teams of competing developers. They will meet with residents and business people to get ideas, which the teams will weave into competing plans.

The teams are:

Redevelopment plans hit a snag in October when the city’s procurement director, Gus Lopez, was arrested on charges of bid-rigging. Law enforcement officials began investigating him after the former city manager, Jorge Gonzalez, claimed Lopez had leaked information and was assembling his own team for the lucrative project. Lopez has pleaded not guilty to 63 felony counts.

The process resumed after prosecutors reassured the city that the remaining bidders were not tangled in the ongoing corruption probe.

Earlier this month, though, Commissioner Deede Weithorn said at a city commission meeting that she had information from an unnamed but trusted source that a bidder may have had inappropriate contact with Lopez. Weithorn has refused to be specific, saying only that Lopez “made contact to direct certain individuals to certain teams.’’

On Thursday, Weithorn spoke with prosecutors at their request, but she declined to elaborate in detail on the conversation.

“I gave them the information that was passed on to me,’’ she said. “I gave [the prosecutor] my source’s name and phone number, which I’m not going to give you for various reasons,” she said in an interview Friday.

“I’m not trying to hide or sensationalize it. I just don’t want it to come up later and for someone to say, ‘Well you knew and you didn’t do anything about it.’ ’’

Weithorn and her fellow commissioners have asked all five teams that submitted bids to sign affidavits swearing they haven’t done anything wrong.

City Attorney Jose Smith said the affidavits will be ready by Monday.

Both teams still competing for the project have said they are willing to sign.

She said if members from any of the teams refuse to sign affidavits, she will ask commissioners to consider removing that team from final considerations. Earlier this month, she asked commissioners to add a third team to the finalists, but commissioners refused.

If, on the other hand, all the team members swear to not having had “inappropriate contact,” she will put the issue to rest, Weithorn said.

Despite hosting events that attract worldwide attention, such as Art Basel, the 55-year-old convention center hasn’t gotten a facelift since the 1980s. Plans to overhaul the property fizzled in 2010, after commissioners rejected a proposed $640 million expansion and the city was unable to secure public funding for the project.

They then turned to the private sector, asking for bids from companies to build and finance an “iconic” development. After hearing from locals, developers will draft plans for the site. Those plans will be presented at subsequent public meetings.

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