Tripling ballroom capacity critical component to Miami Beach convention center expansion
By Susan Stabley
Plans to expand the Miami Beach Convention Center have vaulted forward, said General Manager Doug Tober, as the center won city approval to gather architects and engineers during the next 60 days to begin designs.
The convention center would ideally gain 50,000 square feet, including a 2,000-square-foot garage that could hold 1,500 to 1,600 vehicles.
"We want to compete with places like Orlando, New Orleans or Atlanta," said Mr. Tober, who works for SMG, a Philadelphia-based company that manages more than 143 public assembly facilities worldwide.
The center, now stretching across four blocks in Miami Beach, is considered the largest indoor meeting space in South Florida, with more than 500,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space and 68 meeting rooms.
The center opened in 1957 and is known around the world as the place where Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) in 1964 won his first world heavyweight championship. In 1990, the center's size doubled after a $92 million renovation. In 2001, the center was spruced up with new carpet and paint to better serve concerts, major trade shows and conventions, and, most notably last July's gathering of Microsoft employees.
But its main ballroom offers just 20,000 square feet to fit 1,100 people. The expansion, Mr. Tober said, would triple the size to 60,000 for at least 2,500 to 3,000 people.
"The ballroom is a prime component of the convention center," he said. "This is very important to us."
The garage will also be a key addition, Mr. Tober said. With high ceilings on the first floor, it would offer space for exhibits.
Funding for the expansion is a question. About $60 million will be needed, Mr. Tober estimated. A possible source is the county's Convention Development Tax, which is a tariff on hotel rooms and other tourism-related amenities.
Miami-Dade County could release $50 million in convention development taxes that were committed to go toward construction of a baseball stadium if the county does not go forward with stadium plans by Dec. 1, 2003.
Stuart Blumberg, president of the Greater Miami & the Beaches Hotel Association, told an audience of hundreds at the Nov. 13 meeting of the International Council of Shopping Centers at the Hyatt Regency Pier 66 in Fort Lauderdale that he expected the expansion to be completed by 2007 or 2008.
Mr. Blumberg also mentioned an eventual mass transit link between Miami and Miami Beach that could be routed to the convention center area.
"I will see in my lifetime an intermodal system to Miami Beach."