Miami Beach

Miami Beach goes to Plan B for finding contractor for convention center renovation

A rendering of initial designs of the facade of the Miami Beach Convention Center.
A rendering of initial designs of the facade of the Miami Beach Convention Center. CITY OF MIAMI BEACH/FENTRESS ARCHITECTS/ARQUITECTONICA/WEST 8

Miami Beach will change how to find a contractor to renovate the Miami Beach Convention Center after the city, which has struggled with the project for more than a decade, wound up with only one firm bidding on the $500 million renovation.

At Wednesday’s City Commission meeting, commissioners unanimously voted to go with another plan to finish the design and find a builder to complete the long-awaited project, first discussed more than a decade ago. The city started preparing a “plan B” when its request for proposals had only one firm left bidding for the job, which left no competition on price.

Instead of hiring a firm to use the first 30 percent of the design to finish the plans and start construction, the city will put a “construction management at risk” contract out to bid. Once selected, this firm would work with subcontractors for specific portions of the project.

The city’s administration says this approach will keep the renovation on schedule to begin after Art Basel in December this year.

City Manager Jimmy Morales explained the circumstance to commissioners Wednesday. After meeting with Clark Construction Group, the only firm remaining after three others dropped out, Morales said he felt the project couldn’t continue with the design-build concept without more competition on the bidding.

“At the end of the process, despite the discussion we had, I felt on the project of this size and of this nature and budget, I could not in good faith tell you that we were getting a competitive and best price that we could,” he said. “And certainly a project of that nature shouldn’t have that cloud hanging over it.”

Officials said there were no hard feelings between Clark and the city, and Clark principals were on hand to thank the city for the opportunity to bid and say they intend to respond to the new solicitation.

In a statement to the Miami Herald, CEO Sidney Jordan said he understood why the city made the move.

“Clark Construction fully understands the position the city finds itself in with one remaining proposer,” he said. “The Tier 2 proposals were due on Feb. 27, 2015; therefore, Clark and the City of Miami Beach had not entered into any negotiations. However, we did have a Sunshine meeting with the City to understand the scope of the work and their budget. Clark supports the process to move forward in an expeditious manner and looks forward to responding to the forthcoming RFQ.”

Fentress Architects worked with Arquitectonica and West 8 on the first 30 percent of the design for a fee of $11 million. The city used their design to solicit proposals for a design-build firm, which would have finished their designs and put shovels in the ground.

Going out to bid for another firm to finish the designs would’ve delayed the project by a year, according to a staff memo. So the city will now pay Fentress another $14.5 million to finish the drawings.

Mayor Philip Levine said the city is still in a good position to get the renovation done, which has been a goal for city officials for about a decade.

“We just have to decide on the contractors, and that is the last of everyone’s concern,” he said. “This is a good way for us to move forward.”

Competition had peeled away from the design-build process as three of the four firms backed out of the bid from November through January. City administrators blamed a rebounding construction industry for giving firms more options.

Others point to the project’s troubled history. The last round of bidding in 2013 was a competition for who would develop a grand vision for the entire 52-acre convention center district, whose boundaries are Washington Avenue, 17th Street, Meridian Avenue and Dade Boulevard, the heart of the Beach’s Lincoln Road neighborhood. The project attracted prominent developers, landscape designers and two world-famous architects: the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and the Danish architect Bjarke Ingels.

The city chose to negotiate the $1.1 billion project with South Beach ACE, the master development team that won the bid in summer 2013. The plan, designed by Koolhaas, featured a hotel suspended over a renovated convention center, with a park and residential/retail incorporated across from the center.

The project proved a hotly debated campaign issue during the November 2013 election. Commissioner Jonah Wolfson led a campaign against the size and price of the ACE project. Those favoring the more-modest approach prevailed. Negotiations with ACE were called off in January 2014, when freshly elected Levine led a new commission to scrap the plans and start over.

Jeff Sachs, the convention center consultant hired by the city, said the new approach reintroduces competition to the process.

“Nobody can come back and say it wasn’t competitive,” he said.

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