Miami-Dade County

Small-scale housing urged at Miami Beach Convention Center

Miami Beach commissioners generally agree with their city manager’s recommendations to dramatically down-scale proposals to redevelop their 52-acre convention center site — but indicated they would support some small-scale residential development to help bring life to the site.

A week ago, City Manager Jimmy Morales had suggested turning the proposed apartment buildings that would surround the convention center into green space. He also called for dramatically reducing the project’s retail space, eliminating a proposed cultural center and for the city to retain ownership of the 17th Street Garage.

In their first chance to weigh in on the manager’s recommendations, commissioners on Monday suggested he rethink his elimination of housing. The commissioners, manager and the two development teams vying for the $1 billion project discussed the project at a special Land Use and Development meeting Monday evening.

“If we don’t do the low-rise residential, I think the problem with leaving a lot of open green space is if you don’t program it,” said Commissioner Ed Tobin.

He compared it to the mostly open lawn in front of the Bass Museum of Art, saying it’s not used “with the exception of the homeless.”

Commissioner Michael Góngora told Morales to “keep the door open” on the issue of housing.

Mayor Matti Herrera Bower said she doesn’t “have a problem’’ with the development of residential units as long as the buildings aren’t “out of whack’’ with the surroundings.

Commissioners Deede Weithorn and Jorge Exposito made comments along similar lines, but both suggested the development of any housing come later down the line.

Commissioner Jerry Libbin said he’s “not enamored’’ with the idea of housing, but could be convinced otherwise.

Morales did not respond to their specific comments.

Both teams — South Beach ACE, led by New York-based Tishman Hotel and Realty, and Portman-CMC, led by Atlanta-based Portman Holdings — submitted revised plans late Friday, downsizing their grandiose plans for the project. They each had pitched a renovated convention center, an 800-room hotel, plus tens of thousands of square feet of retail and restaurant space.

Representatives from both teams were at Monday’s meeting, which took a decidedly different turn when Tobin revealed the city had asked the two teams to sign agreements saying they wouldn’t sue if they weren’t chosen for the deal. Chief Deputy City Attorney Raul Aguila said Portman-CMC has signed the agreement. But it’s only contingent upon their competitor doing the same.

The opposing team, South Beach ACE, hasn’t signed the waiver and indicated at Monday’s meeting that it wouldn’t.

Al Dotson Jr., an attorney representing ACE, said the agreement was “overly broad’’ and suggested it was illegal because it would prevent them from doing certain things they would otherwise be obligated to do, such as file an ethics complaint.

After Monday’s meeting, Dotson released this statement: “I personally met with the city attorney and assistant city attorney. They agreed to review the case law to determine whether the requested waiver of all legal rights, past and future, is permitted by Florida law. The city attorney and assistant city attorney have agreed to get back to me tomorrow by mid-afternoon.”

Weithorn said the legal issue will be an “integral part” of her decisions regarding the convention center, and asked for the city attorney to keep the commission briefed.

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