Debate heats up over Miami Beach's renewal of convention bureau contract
By Catherine Lackner
The battle over whether the City of Miami Beach will renew its contract with the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau has become so heated that even a May 8 discussion about setting a meeting took nearly an hour to resolve.
The bureau's contract comes up for a two-year renewal Sept. 30. Though Mayor David Dermer said last week that "this isn't about canceling the bureau's contract," he has suggested that the city renew the contract for only one year and send out a request for qualifications to determine if any other parties are interested in marketing the city.
Revenues from Miami Beach comprise $5.7 million of the bureau's $17.8 million annual budget. Mr. Dermer has said that the money could be used to hire a firm to sell only Miami Beach's attributes, rather than having the city sold as a destination with rest of Miami-Dade County.
Bureau representatives insist that their efforts have done much to benefit Miami Beach, and several commission members say they agree.
It's not a new debate. In December 1998, the mayor and 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 on the bureau's board. Most committee members said that the conditions have been met.
Still, Mr. Dermer has stated in various forums that he would like to "see what's out there. There's a world of fresh ideas to explore."
An April 8 city meeting failed to resolve the controversy, so it was scheduled for a May 8 city commission meeting. Then, before a packed chamber, Mr. Dermer suggested the matter be deferred until after Memorial Day weekend.
"I need to prepare for this meeting," he said. "I'm going to invite people here. We're going to have a full and public discussion."
City of Miami Beach Commissioner Simon Cruz suggested May 16. After much discussion, the commission set a May 22 date.
Postponing the meeting until June "is making a mockery out of the livelihood of people in our city," Mr. Cruz said.
"How many of us have even seen a bureau contract?" Commissioner Jose Smith said. "We're not ready to vote on this."
Mr. Dermer said he had heard about a campaign to thwart his efforts to scrutinize and possibly change the bureau's contract.
"For those of you who think they're going to make it so hot in the kitchen that I'll get out," he said, "let me tell you, I've just gone to the store and bought the food. I haven't even turned the stove on yet."