Key Biscayne

Deal near to bring Miami International Boat Show to Marine Stadium

The Progressive Miami International Boat Show at the Miami Beach Convention Center in 2014.
The Progressive Miami International Boat Show at the Miami Beach Convention Center in 2014. Miami Herald Staff

Miami officials are expected to vote Thursday on a plan to spend millions on improvements to land next to the historic Miami Marine Stadium in order to lure the Miami International Boat Show to Virginia Key next year.

Only weeks after balking at a not-for-profit’s controversial plan to privately finance the same improvements, administrators have proposed that the city pay up to $16 million to build an outdoor exhibition area that would host the massive marine expo and other events throughout the year. Miami officials hope to pay for the improvements this year and reimburse city coffers by selling bonds backed by funds from a transit tax.

To use the site, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which owns the popular boat show, would have to sign a revocable license agreement that calls for $1.1 million in annual rent to the city plus half of the net on sales of food and parking for the event. There’s no set length to the deal, but the city can walk away at any time and the Marine Association can renegotiate if it remains at the historic site more than five years.

“We’re just really excited about the opportunity and we’re really excited about what we’re going to learn in 2016 and ’17, and possibly beyond,” said boat show manager Cathy Rick-Joule. “I see that this will continue to be a part of the Miami International Boat Show in the foreseeable future.”

If the commission approves of the license and financing — and if a final agreement is signed by the city and boat show representatives — the massive event would be hosted outside the Marine Stadium for the first time next year, on the show’s 75th anniversary. The boat show has been held at the Miami Beach Convention Center for decades, but scheduled renovations are pushing the event out, perhaps permanently.

Under the license agreement presented to commissioners, the National Marine Manufacturer’s Association would have 40 days before, during and after the President’s Day weekend event to set up and break down, giving the city about a year to complete the park project. The city expects to pay for roadway improvements, drainage, lighting and an electrical grid, among other amenities.

Rick-Joule said boat show organizers are also interested in expanding the show from land out into the Marine Stadium Basin and incorporating the stadium into the show if the concrete venue — shuttered since Hurricane Andrew blew into Miami in 1992 — is restored and reopened.

The arrangement being considered Thursday is very different from one presented to commissioners in November by the Friends of Miami Marine Stadium, which had secured a letter of intent from the boat show to be an anchor tenant at a commercial complex surrounding a restored stadium. The not-for-profit Friends group would have paid for the creation of the “flex” park, $30 million in stadium renovations and another $91 million in commercial development through fundraising and private financing from its business partners.

But commissioners and administrators were uncomfortable with the scope of the project. And other details, including the potential that leaders of the not-for-profit might benefit from the deal as paid architects, proved controversial. So instead, commissioners directed administrators in November to begin negotiating themselves with boat show representatives and to consider the public financing of improvements needed to fix up the stadium grounds and lure the show to Miami.

The newly proposed agreement accomplishes just that, although it does not consider any renovations to the actual stadium. Deputy City Manager Alice Bravo said those discussions — which include the possibility of creating a city-affiliated trust to manage the site — have been put on the back burner while the city negotiated with the boat show.

She said administrators should have a plan for the stadium by February or March.

“Really for the past few weeks we’ve been focused on the boat show,” said Bravo. “We’ll be tackling everything else later.”