Tourism & Cruises

Boats! Art! And, OMG, traffic! Miami expects a record-breaking holiday weekend

The old Miami Marine Stadium is seen as preparations are underway for this weekends Miami International Boat Show on Virginia Key on Tuesday.
The old Miami Marine Stadium is seen as preparations are underway for this weekends Miami International Boat Show on Virginia Key on Tuesday.

Coral Gables real estate broker Christopher Zoller is on a mission to accomplish what even in previous years might have been near impossible: attend all three local headliner events during the blockbuster Presidents’ Day weekend.

Add in this year’s additional challenges — a new Virginia Key location for the Miami International Boat Show, with road access at the north end of Coconut Grove, and the confluence of Valentine’s Day — and Zoller’s aim to hit the Miami International Boat Show, Coconut Grove Arts Festival and Art Wynwood becomes a traffic navigation feat of Herculean proportions.

Tourism leaders, county transit officials and event organizers say they’re primed for traffic issues. And while softness in Latin American economies is affecting Florida, this weekend is still expected to bring record-breaking crowds.

“This is a great opportunity to demonstrate that with good planning, we can provide effective transportation options so everyone can enjoy their activities and we can keep traffic flowing,” said Alice Bravo, director of the Miami-Dade County Department of Transportation and Public Works.

Water taxis and road shuttles from designated parking areas are designed to help ease traffic stress as the Boat Show moves from its previous location, at the temporarily closed Miami Beach Convention Center, to the Miami Marine Stadium Park and Basin on Virginia Key.

Nostalgic appeal notwithstanding — Zoller and his wife used to go to concerts in the late 1980s at the marine stadium by boat — he’s cautious about this year’s logistics.

“I’m anxious to see how they pull all of this off.”

And while economic troubles in Latin America have negatively impacted South Florida businesses this winter, local tourism leaders say Presidents’ Day weekend won’t be affected thanks to the trifecta of events.

“Presidents’ Day weekend is one of those marquee weekends where the world wants to be in Miami,” said Rolando Aedo, chief marketing officer at the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. “We are anticipating that Presidents’ Day weekend will be one of the busiest and the most lucrative weekends in the hotel industry, as it has been for many years.”

Aedo said the tourism bureau expects $50 million in hotel room sales during the lucrative weekend, up 9 percent over last year. The increase is buoyed by the addition of 1,500 hotel rooms — now a total of about 52,000 in the county — since last year’s Presidents’ Day weekend and a 3 percent increase in room rates.

Occupancy at Miami-Dade hotels was at 86 percent earlier this month, Aedo said, and is on track to reach last year’s 94 percent occupancy rate come the weekend.

Hotels in downtown Miami, Brickell, Coral Gables and the beaches are expected to perform well, said Wendy Kallergis, president and CEO of the Greater Miami & the Beaches Hotel Association. Tourists from Brazil and other Latin American countries are expected in high numbers, along with European and Canadian guests.

In Fort Lauderdale, where travel by Canadian and Brazilian visitors has slowed, Presidents’ Day weekend remains the exception. Hotel occupancy there is expected to match last year’s record 96 percent occupancy rate, thanks to spillover from the Miami events.

“We are already hearing that our hotels are anticipating a sellout,” said Nicki E. Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Still, the tourism bureau is closely monitoring the ailing Latin American economy, Grossman said. For now, the outlook is strong: Flights arriving at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport with visitors from Latin and Central America say they have been 85 to 88 percent full since January 2015.

“It’s really great news, and that’s one of the reasons we are all showing a certain amount of confidence going into that weekend and beyond,” Grossman said.

Tourism Trifecta

The success of the weekend is due in large part to the draw of the Miami International Boat Show, which attracts visitors from around the globe to its five-day event opening Thursday.

“The Miami Boat Show is something that people wait for every year,” said Cathy Rick-Joule, the show’s director. “If they come, they are going to spend money — that’s why they are here.”

About 100,000 people from more than 80 countries are expected to visit this year’s show, about the same as last year. And the countries whose commercial buyers are showing up in the largest numbers? Some of the Latin American countries whose economies are struggling most: Brazil, Colombia and Mexico.

Mexico will bring 19 buyers to the Boat Show, more than any other country taking part in the show’s International Buyers Program, a partnership with the U.S. Department of Commerce to recruit business-to-business buyers for trade shows. It’s closely followed by Colombia with 17 buyers (tied with Norway) and Brazil with 14 buyers (tied with China). The three Latin American countries’ buyers account for more than a third of the 130 international buyers attending the show through the program.

This year’s Boat Show will showcase more than 1,200 vessels both on land and in the water in more than 400 boat slips from about 2,000 vendors.

Parking and transportation are also getting a revamp.

“We got to build the show that people tell us that they wanted and we got to improve things people complained about in the past,” Rick-Joule said, such as parking and food options. “We know that we’ve lost people over the last bunch of years out of sheer frustration who we hope we will win back.”

Showgoers are encouraged to park in satellite locations. Organizers have arranged 12,000 parking spaces, primarily at downtown’s AmericanAirlines Arena and Marlins Park — up from about 2,000 spaces at the old Miami Beach Convention Center. Visitors will be shuttled from 16 locations via land or water taxis.

The yacht and powerboat show, previously at Sea Isle Marina in downtown Miami, will take place at the Marine Stadium site. The Strictly Sail sailboat show will be at Bayside, with water taxis connecting it to the main site.

Separate from the Boat Show, but also on Presidents’ Day weekend will be Yachts Miami Beach, formerly the Yacht & Brokerage Show. Now in its 28th year, the show will feature 500 new and used yachts in the water at its usual location — a mile-long strip of the Indian Creek Waterway, from 41st Street to 54th Street along Collins Avenue. This year, it’s adding a new site at Island Gardens Deep Harbour Marina on Watson Island, where a limited selection of super yachts will be on display. The yacht show, too, is providing shuttle transports to its two locations.

The boost in transportation options is expected to increase crossover between the seemingly unrelated demographics that attend the weekend’s major events.

Longtime staple the Coconut Grove Arts Festival is teaming up with the Boat Show to offer a $25 joint ticket, including a water taxi ride between the two events.

Improved mobility is key this year.

A free bike valet will offer alternative transportation to the art festival, with space to store more than 150 bikes. An Uber lot at the Coconut Grove Playhouse will serve as a drop-off point into the festival for those who don’t want to park in the surrounding garages. Signs on Interstate 95 will direct traffic down U.S. 1 for the arts festival or toward the Rickenbacker Causeway for the Boat Show.

“We are trying to address that part of the traffic and we are already being proactive about it,” said Monty Trainer, president of the Coconut Grove Arts and Historical Association.

Now in its 53rd year, the three-day art festival beginning Saturday promises more traditional arts and crafts in various mediums. It features 380 international artists, including a handful of Latin American artists.

In Wynwood, art with a contemporary flair will be on display at Art Wynwood. The fifth year of the show is expected to draw a strong presence of international visitors and artists.

“Miami has just become such an amazing international destination as a city with a high cultural profile that to have a fair that weekend only makes sense,” said Art Wynwood founder Nick Korniloff.

Most of the fair’s international visitors, he said, are people who call South Florida home during the winter months or just come to visit for the warmer weather, a recipe that has proved successful for Presidents’ Day weekend.

“Challenges with international economies don’t just happen overnight. People foresee them, and they can feel them coming on,” Korniloff said. “They spend their money with the understanding that there are rocky times ahead in their country. That proved to bode well for the art market and our fair.”

More than 80 of this year’s 600-plus artists will come from Latin America and a quarter of them from Cuba, more than any year in the fair’s history, said the Art Wynwood director, Grela Orihuela.

A record-breaking year is also forecast for Art Wynwood, with attendance counts expected to exceed last year’s 35,000.

Visitors this year will get to see a variety of contemporary pieces during the fair’s five days, also opening Thursday.Among them is a marquee piece by songwriter and artist Bernie Taupin: two giant 10-feet tall American flags, covered in a net of twine, flanking the entrance to the fair.

Entitled Sleeping Beauty, the work aims to encourage national introspection.

One Way In, One Way Out

Despite the effort to increase transit options, locals are still skeptical that the Boat Show’s new location won’t turn roadways into parking lots over the weekend — particularly when there is only one access road to the new site.

“Traffic going to Key Biscayne is crazy on the weekend, even when there’s no event taking place,” said Marcos Lawson, a creative director at an advertising company.

Still, Lawson said he’s still planning to attend the Boat Show.

To help curb confusion over the weekend, the county is putting up signs to alert locals to keep off the Rickenbacker unless they have prepaid parking for the Boat Show, said Miami-Dade transit chief Bravo.

Her biggest tip for drivers: Don’t drive onto Virginia Key looking for parking. Take advantage of the changes this year, which mirror those for theme parks, and avoid a headache, Bravo said.

The real concern, all parties agreed, is not traffic or even whether people will come out to the events — it’s whether Mother Nature will.

And they may be in luck: Friday and Saturday are expected to bring warm temperatures before a cool down and chance of rain on Sunday threatens to sour the weekend.

If you go

Art Wynwood: 2901 NE First Ave., Miami. 6 p.m.-10 p.m. on Feb. 11 (Premier Day), 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Feb. 12 to Feb. 14, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. on Feb. 15. $25 for a one-day pass; $15 for students 12-18 years old and seniors 62 and older; free for kids under 12 and accompanied by adult.

Coconut Grove Arts Festival: Adjacent to Biscayne Bay along McFarlane Road, South Bayshore Drive and Pan American Drive. Feb. 13-Feb. 15 from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. $15 general admission per person per day, $25 joint admission with the Miami International Boat Show.

Progressive Insurance Miami International Boat Show & Strictly Sail At Bayside: Miami Marine Stadium Park and Basin, 3501 Rickenbacker Causeway, Miami; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on Feb. 11 (Premier Day), 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Feb. 12 to Feb. 14, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on Feb. 15. Strictly Sail at Miamarina at Bayside, 401 Biscayne Blvd, Miami; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Feb. 11 to Feb. 15. $20 one-day pass, $35 two-pass (Feb. 12 to Feb. 15), $85 five-day pass, $35 Premier Day pass; free for kids 15 and under accompanied by adult.

Yachts Miami Beach: Indian Creek Waterway along Collins Avenue from 41st to 51st streets, Miami Beach. 10 a.m.- 7 p.m. Feb. 11 to Feb. 14, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Feb. 15.

Traffic tip

Take State Road 836 and get off at the 27th Avenue exit if you’re going to the Boat Show — avoid getting off at the Rickenbacker Causeway exit.

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