$600 million impact propelled boat show deal
Written by John Charles Robbins on January 14, 2015
By securing the Miami International Boat Show for the City of Miami for 2016, city commissioners have ensured an infusion of money and jobs into the local economy.
That’s part of the assessment made by city officials who worked to negotiate the boat show anchoring on city property for next year’s event, and perhaps for many years thereafter.
According to the boat show organizers – who will celebrate their 75th anniversary in 2016 – the boat show fills hotel rooms, creates thousands of jobs and sinks more than $600 million into the South Florida economy each year.
All of these economic benefits were mentioned in a resolution adopted Jan. 8 by city commissioners approving a license with the National Marine Manufacturers Association to host the 2016 show at city-owned Marine Stadium Park on Virginia Key.
The association represents more than 1,400 companies involved in various productions used by recreational boaters.
The boat show is the premiere gathering place for more than 100,000 boaters, 50% of whom travel to the show from outside Florida, and 10% who travel from outside of the US, the resolution states.
An estimated 45,000 workers prepare the boat show each year, the show accounts for the equivalent of about 200,000 hotel room nights, and the show provides the equivalent of 6,500 full-time jobs, the resolution says.
More than 1,500 businesses that call Miami home depend on the boat show, and Florida businesses sell more than $300 million worth of products at the show, according to the association.
Cathy Rick-Joule, manager of the boat show, told commissioners of the large economic impact the event has on the area. She said the boat show’s influence is global.
Commissioner Frank Carollo said she didn’t need to sell the commission on the value of having the popular event in Miami.
“We want the boat show back in Miami – where it belongs,” he said.
Since November, City Manager Daniel Alfonso has been negotiating with the association to host the 2016 show on Virginia Key.
The boat show for years has been held each February at the Miami Beach Convention Center, which is being rebuilt and can’t handle the show next year.
The license approved Jan. 8 allows the association to host the boat show on land and water surrounding Miami Marine Stadium. Commissioners also approved spending up to $16 million on improvements to the site, to be paid for by a bond sale.
In exchange, the association is to pay the city $1.1 million a year and 50% of food and beverage sales income at the show. Renovation of the stadium is not part of those improvements. There is a separate program to save the iconic concrete stadium, closed since Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
The license is not for a fixed term, and may be terminated or revoked by the city at-will. Although there is no binding long-term agreement between the city and the association, the city can review the license after 5 years.
In 2007, Miami city officials began a years-long process of writing, amending and finally adopting a master plan for the development of Virginia Key in 2010.
That plan has been sitting on a shelf literally gathering dust for more than four years – until last week.
With the possibility of securing the Miami International Boat Show on the city-owned barrier island, suddenly the master plan for the key is back in play.
Now city officials and commissioners are talking about other uses for the property that surrounds the abandoned stadium, including perhaps soccer fields for youth and adult leagues.
Mr. Alfonso said the city always planned to develop Marine Stadium Park, “and now we have a partner to help.”
He stressed the need to get moving on improvements to the key property, as the 2016 boat show is just 13 months away.
“We need to get this moving to get all of the infrastructure in place,” Mr. Alfonso said.
Alice Bravo, deputy city manager, showed plans for the area around the stadium with improved water and sewer, drainage and lighting, and strengthening the surface areas as green space able to stage activities and special events. The plans show possible use of temporary event structures – looking like large tents – with elaborate layouts, wood floors, air conditioning, and some two stories high.
While there was plenty of support for a flex park next to the stadium, some objected to potential side effects.
Village of Key Biscayne Mayor Mayra Peña Lindsay told commissioners that although the village was promised a voice in deciding the fate of Virginia Key, village officials had had “no meaningful input” in the last several weeks, and she repeated her earlier warning to the city not to rush a decision.
She earlier voiced serious concerns with the impact of major development on the key, reminding city leaders that the Rickenbacker Causeway is the only access to Virginia Key and Key Biscayne.
Ms. Peña Lindsay spoke of potential gridlock on the causeway during the week of the boat show, imploring city commissioners to consider that they might be severing access for thousands to the public beaches on Key Biscayne.
City officials and Ms. Rick-Joule told commissioners the auto traffic generated by the show will be dealt with by use of off-site parking facilities and shuttles and water taxis, explaining that the show’s producers have years of experience operating on constrained sites.
“We are looking forward to being good neighbors,” said Ms. Rick-Joule.
While discussing whether to approve the license for the boat show, Commissioner Francis Suarez said, “We should look at this as phase one.”
Phase one is securing the boat show for 2016, he said. Phase two will be to consider long-term plans and tenants for Marine Stadium Park. Phase three will be the restoration of the stadium itself, Mr. Suarez said.
He suggested that his fellow commissioners make sure phase two is done right in order to pay for long-term expenses.
Commissioner Marc Sarnoff favored restoring the stadium and making improvements to the park but repeated an earlier point: what will the park look like the remainder of the year after the boat show has come and gone?
“Imagine a full-fledged soccer community out there,” he said.
“As we grow and push outward,” Mr. Sarnoff said of the city, consider what other uses or tenants could be welcomed at Marine Stadium Park. Perhaps Art Miami might one day be interested, he suggested.
The decaying concrete stadium has been vacant more than 20 years. In a separate move, the commission last month accepted a $1 million state grant for stadium restoration.
The license approved Jan. 8 includes a diagram showing the stadium fenced off for the 2016 boat show and notes a 10-foot-high fence displaying a rendering of future stadium enhancements printed on mesh screen.
In November, the non-profit Friends of Miami Marine Stadium handed the city an elaborate $121 million plan to renovate the stadium and develop the surrounding area into a maritime complex, with commercial space, a 125,000-square-foot expo center, a new marina and a 280-slip dry-dock storage facility.
Commissioners rejected the plan and instead kept it simple, directing Mr. Alfonso to get the boat show for 2016 and maybe longer and create a proposal to fund stadium restoration.
Commissioners last week directed Mr. Alfonso and staff to come back within two months with all funding options for the improvements to Virginia Key, not limited to bonding for the money.
Mr. Carollo said he was reluctant to approve the $16 million bond proposal without having a long-term commitment or revenue stream.
“My concern is, in two or three years the boat show leaves and we are left with that debt service,” he said.
“I’d prefer to have some longer agreement,” said Mr. Carollo.
Mr. Alfonso was also directed to quickly return with a potential long-term proposal for the boat show.