Miami Beach

Miami Beach picks Denver firm for first part of $500 million convention center redo

Fentress Architects has been awarded a contract for Miami Beach’s on-again, off-again convention center renovation.

City Commissioners on Wednesday picked the Denver-based firm from a field of eight competitors vying for the $11 million contract. The vote was unanimous, except Commissioner Jonah Wolfson was absent.

Fentress will serve as the design criteria professional for a renovation that will cost $500 million. As the design criteria professional, Fentress will draw up partial plans for the project. Its plans will become the basis of another city bid, this one for a “design-build” firm. The design-build firm will finish the plans and build the project.

Fentress specializes in designing public buildings. Its work has included convention centers in Denver, San Diego and Santa Fe.

Michael Winters, director of design and interiors for Fentress, said the studio aims to design a convention center that will “give back to the urban and civic environment.”

The Beach’s convention center has been derided as a concrete box that cuts off access to the surrounding neighborhoods and the Lincoln Road Mall.

“Ultimately, we have to create pride for the neighborhood,” Winters said.

Fentress knows the Miami Beach Convention Center well: the studio was on a team that competed in last year’s competition for a larger-scale renovation of the building and surrounding area. That competition, in which the Fentress team was the runner-up, was scrapped shortly after a new commission was elected in November.

Three new commissioners and a new mayor beat out incumbents who had backed the larger plan, which would have cost $1 billion in total and spanned 52 acres in the heart of South Beach. The old plan called for the city to lease out its land to a private developer who would build a hotel, shops and restaurants on his own dime. The city planned to use the lease payments to help fund the convention center renovation.

Concerns about the project’s scope, price tag and doubts about leasing so much city land led the new commission to kill the old project and start over with a new process. The Beach will rely on a bond, a special taxing district and new hotel tax to fund only a renovation of the convention center.

The commission says that the current process — the third in recent years — will speed up a sorely needed renovation. Hotel and tourism industry leaders say the convention center is a major economic driver that needs to be updated to remain competitive.

So far, the process has stuck to the advertised schedule. If that trend continues, the city should have a design-build firm in place by April 2015 and the renovation should be done in time for the 2017 Art Basel fair in Miami Beach.

“It's incredibly important that we move this along very, very fast,” said Mayor Philip Levine. “There’s a huge industry that wants to come to Miami Beach.”

Industry leaders have also pushed for the addition of a headquarters hotel to serve the convention center. Commissioners have said they eventually want to build a hotel, but will likely hold off on picking a location until a design for the convention center is firmed up.

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