Convention bureau's work under evaluation by Beach manager
By Catherine Lackner
Officials of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau will have to wait almost a month to find out whether, and on what terms, their contract with the City of Miami Beach will be renewed.
Several proposals were floated during an often-contentious, three-hour meeting of the city's Finance & Citywide Capital Projects Committee on Monday.
No vote was taken. Instead, the committee asked City Manager Jorge M. Gonzalez to review the bureau's performance and report to the full commission at its May 8 meeting.
The bureau's contract comes up for a two-year renewal Sept. 30. Mayor David Dermer has suggested that rather than signing for the full term the city renew the contract for one year and send out a request for qualifications to determine if any other parties are interesting in promoting Miami Beach.
Revenues from Miami Beach comprise $5.7 million of the bureau's $17.8 million budget. Mr. Dermer has speculated that the money could be used to hire a private firm to market Miami Beach only, rather than having Miami Beach sold as a destination with the rest of the county.
It's not a new debate. In December 1998, the mayor and city commission established a blue ribbon committee on conventions & tourism to evaluate the city's relationship with the bureau. The committee made 17 recommendations, which included having more Miami Beach representatives of the bureau's board. Most committee members agreed the conditions have been met.
"I'm not unhappy with the bureau," Mr. Dermer said Monday. "Many people there are doing a fine job. I just want to see what's out there. There's a world of fresh ideas to explore."
Commissioner Matti Bower said she agreed, proposing the one-year renewal "even though I would have rather had the two-year renewal, because this is going to fall during election time."
"What's going on here?" demanded Tony Goldman, chairman of the bureau's board of directors. "We haven't even made our case yet. That's nuts."
Commissioner Luis Garcia said the city's 17-year relationship with the bureau has been fruitful. "Prior to the bureau, prior to Miami Vice, remember when we had retirees living on cat food on South Beach? Remember when Ocean Drive was a mess?"
Despite a temporary dip in tourism after Sept. 11, "the numbers on the graph have continued to go up," Mr. Garcia said. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
"The bureau model works," Commissioner Saul Gross said. "I look at this as a business. How well is the bureau doing? Unless we have the facts and figures, we don't have enough information to make a decision."
"Who are we going to evaluate them against?" the mayor asked.
"Don't compare the bureau to an advertising agency," Mr. Garcia warned. "An advertising agency has to show a profit - this is a nonprofit agency."
"It's a not-for-profit, but lots of people are making money," Mr. Dermer said. "It's not a charitable organization."
"The people who work there earn their living," Mr. Goldman said. "They work hard. Everybody is looking at our open book. And you're all welcome to come walk the factory floor."
After Sept. 11, he said, "with $2 million we raised from our partners, we came to the market with an aggressive program. Only Las Vegas came to the market as quickly. It was a sensitive campaign, well thought out, and the regeneration has been fabulous."
The committee continued to debate whether a one- or two-year renewal would be appropriate.
"Whether it's one or two years, let me take some time to sit with the bureau," Mr. Gonzalez said. "Let's revisit the direction the blue ribbon committee gave them. It also might behoove us to bring in a consultant," to evaluate the bureau's performance.
"You're going to have an enormous responsibility," the mayor said.
It was agreed that after the review the full commission would hear the matter and make a decision.