Miami-Dade County

Annual industry luncheon for Miami airport, seaport won’t take place this year

An annual briefing on Miami International Airport and PortMiami that has been called off was advertised until Tuesday on the website of World Trade Center Miami, the nonprofit that organizes the event.
An annual briefing on Miami International Airport and PortMiami that has been called off was advertised until Tuesday on the website of World Trade Center Miami, the nonprofit that organizes the event.

To show off the growth of its cargo and cruise businesses, PortMiami commissioned a slick three-minute video last year to air at an annual industry luncheon known as the State of the Ports briefing.

Producing the video — later used for marketing throughout the year — cost $7,261. And that’s not counting the $5,400 that the county-owned seaport shelled out to reserve seven tables for its staff and guests. The Miami-Dade aviation department, which runs Miami International Airport, spent about $25,000 on its own video, tables, audiovisual-equipment rentals and staff time.

The two port chiefs won’t be paying the tab this year.

No State of the Ports event will be held next month, according to World Trade Center Miami, the nonprofit that organizes the briefing. At the request of Aviation Director Emilio González and Port Director Juan Kuryla, the event will be re-imagined, with an eye on bringing it back in 2016. The event has been held annually for 27 years.

“They’re interested in changing the messaging and changing the platform that we use,” said Charlotte Gallogly, the organization’s president. “We’re taking a one-year break.”

The cancellation decision was made late last year, Gallogly said, but an advertisement for the event, which had been scheduled for Feb. 11, appeared on the World Trade Center’s website until Tuesday. It was taken down after a reporter pointed it out.

Both ports will continue to take part in other trade center events, including a week devoted to showcasing the industry. But Kuryla and González, each recently arrived on the job, seem to have been uncomfortable with the awkward job of inviting existing and potential vendors and contractors — some of whom deal with the ports on a regular basis and might have felt obligated to attend — to pay for the luncheon.

“The seaport director and I got together and realized that we needed a different venue, and that we needed something that had a greater return on our investment,” González said. “We’re willing to work with the World Trade Center going forward, but we really need to be judicious as to which events we’ll sponsor.”

The State of the Ports money went to World Trade Center, not the ports; Gallogly, however, rejected a characterization of the event as a fundraiser, saying her organization would largely break even after subtracting hosting costs. About 1,200 people attended last year, she said.

Even before the luncheon was called off, World Trade Center’s budget had taken a hit. The seaport slashed its promotional funding from $2million to $1million this year, which resulted in a cut for World Trade Center, whose earmark went from $400,000 in 2014 to $50,000 in 2015. Like the airport, the seaport is funded by revenues from airlines and concessions, not the county’s general fund.

In the five years before the funding drop, World Trade Center had been the seaport’s top recipient of promotional dollars, according to the county, though Gallogly has said the organization did not get all the approved funding.

In 2013, World Trade Center helped pay for — and promoted internationally — a plan to build 7 million square feet of commercial space on the port’s shallow southwest corner. The plan included a three-tower trade and expo center to bear the organization’s name.

But buzz about the project has diminished since Miami’s commercial real-estate industry criticized it last year as a potential threat to downtown development. The man who had pushed the idea, former Port Director Bill Johnson, is now at the helm of the county’s water and sewer department — and under consideration to become Florida’s economic-development chief in Tallahassee.

Kuryla, his successor at the port, said he envisions an annual event held at the end of the calendar year where he and González can make news. They both mentioned the type of gathering where representatives of airlines, cruise lines and cargo companies would be invited guests allowed to network with port employees they don’t usually get to meet. The port directors would deliver only brief remarks.

“Now what happens is you do the event in February. By that time, everyone knows where you ranked the year before,” Kuryla said. “I would love to release that at an event with our customers and at the same time thank them.

“I think that we’re looking at putting together something new. Something different.”