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Two teams, two visions presented for Miami Beach Convention Center redevelopment

In their first fully fleshed-out presentations on Tuesday, the developers competing to redevelop the Miami Beach Convention Center area described a vibrant new urban district of interconnected green spaces and cultural opportunities anchored by cutting-edge designs — even as they crossed swords over which plan would yield more benefits to the city at a better cost.

Portman-CMC, the team lead by Atlanta developers Portman Holdings, presented a substantially different plan from the preliminary design unveiled months ago, bringing it closer to the long-standing plan developed by their competitor, South Beach ACE. Both teams now contemplate attaching an 800-room hotel that wraps around the southern end of the convention center, restoring the Fillmore at Miami Beach Jackie Gleason Theater and adding a free-standing “cultural” building.

The teams are in the final stages of a billion-dollar competition to land one of the biggest urban redevelopment projects in the country: the modernization and expansion of the aging convention center, the addition of a major hotel and a mix of private development to transform what’s now an asphalt parking lot in the middle of South Beach. Miami Beach commissioners are expected to pick a team for the project as early as June.

In proposals released this week, both teams outline budgets — around $1.2 billion for ACE and $1.15 billion for Portman-CMC — with financing roughly split between public and private sources.

Portman said its plan would rely less on public dollars and generate about $80 million more than ACE’s proposal in rent payments for the city. But ACE team members said that difference is largely explained by Portman’s larger retail component. The ACE proposal includes minimal retail in response to concerns that commercial development on the convention center site would cannibalize business from nearby Lincoln Road Mall.

Portman has already dramatically scaled back the amount of retail that the team originally proposed. Notably absent during its presentation Tuesday were any representatives from their partner, the Bal Harbour shops.

In a day-long meeting packed with residents and city officials, the teams jousted over which could deliver the best product for the money, and which plan fulfills the city’s goal of revitalizing the convention center area, creating green spaces and reconnecting the site to the surrounding neighborhoods.

Clearly irritated by the growing similarities between the plans, the ACE team took several jabs at the revised Portman plan, complaining that it “borrowed” some of ACE’s best ideas — including the integration of the hotel into the convention center.

“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” said Daniel Tishman, of New York’s Tishman Hotel & Realty, which leads the ACE team.

In interviews after the presentation, Jack Portman, vice chairman of Portman Holdings and John Portman & Associates, pushed back, saying their plan changed in response to community concerns over the fate of the Gleason.

Portman’s original plans would have replaced the Gleason with a hotel, while ACE proposed renovating the theater from the start. Once Portman decided to keep the Gleason, the only logical place for the hotel was to attach it to the convention center, Portman said.

Portman said their concept beats their competitor’s in the way that they manage access to the site as well as the circulation of trucks, and the functioning of their reconfigured convention center.

One key difference between the plans: Portman’s, designed by Danish firm Bjarke Ingels Group, would place a required massive ballroom in a separate building facing the west side of the convention center. That would create a much-touted, semi-enclosed public square — lined by City Hall, restaurants and retail — that would become a new center of activity for the city.

The ACE plan, designed by Rem Koolhaas and his Office for Metropolitan Architecture, includes an open 70,000-square foot plaza in roughly the same place.

Differences in how each plan handles open space — which has emerged as one of the principal goals of residents — was the subject of substantial discussion.

The ACE team said its design shrinks the footprint of the convention center building by making the hotel taller, creating 28.6 acres of “useful” public space. That’s about five more acres than the Portman plan. A portion of the green space in ACE’s plan is the result of burying much of the convention center parking and loading under a terraced park at the north end of the convention center.

Portman countered that ACE’s 190-foot-tall hotel doesn’t fit in with the surrounding low-rise community. Portman’s would be about 70 feet shorter.

Another key difference Portman noted is that four residential buildings in ACE’s plan, at six and 12 stories, break up some of that team’s park space. Portman would place four smaller residential buildings, four stories each, in the same spot, but most of its proposed 300 units would be attached to the front of the convention center along Washington Avenue.

Another key difference: how each team revamps the interior of the convention center, with each team contending its arrangement is more efficient and would draw greater business.

Tishman acknowledged its proposal is “more complex,” requiring two temporary meeting spaces to be erected during construction. That also means they would push their completion date to mid-2018, in contrast to Portman’s promised summer 2017 completion.

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