Two cities battle to wire for convention bureau home
By Susan Stabley
A plan for the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau to move to Watson Island may finally go to the Miami City Commission in February, dimming chances the county's tourism headquarters could move to Miami Beach.
The proposal still needs to go to the bureau executive committee Jan. 31, said President and CEO William Talbert III.
The City of Miami, bureau and Miami Sports & Exhibition Authority, a city unit that promotes events, agreed in 1997 to build and operate a visitors center if the bureau moved there. The building would become the Watson Island Regional Aviation & Visitors Center with bureau offices, heliport and seaplane airstrip on more than 5 acres.
But last year, Miami Beach officials asked the bureau, a marketing organization geared to attract visitors, to move across the bay and the bureau showed interest. Beach Commissioner Luis Garcia has cited an agreement that his city will get a chance for input before the bureau picks a site.
Indeed, Mr. Talbert said Tuesday a Beach site has been identified and would be a factor at the Jan. 31 meeting to discuss a Watson Island proposal. He did not say that Watson Island is the chosen site. Three Miami officials said, however, they thought it was a "done deal."
If the bureau should reject Watson Island, Miami has said it may not be able to build the center. If the project isn't started by year's end, the bureau will lose some funds earmarked for the $11 million hub.
The bureau is now on Brickell Avenue. A Watson Island home would also be within the City of Miami, but heavy bureau income is from Miami Beach.
Beach revenues comprise $5.7 million of the bureau's $17.8 million budget. In the past, Beach Mayor David Dermer has said that money could be better used to sell only Miami Beach's attributes.
City of Miami officials said they expect a Watson Island move.
Miami Sports & Exhibition Authority Finance Director Ferey Kian said Tuesday that such a proposal was headed to the city. The authority would be the bureau's landlord on Watson Island.
"We're still fine-tuning the agreement with the legal department, but we are under the impression they have already agreed to the terms," said Otto Boudet, senior adviser for economic development with the Miami mayor's office.
Still, Mayor Dermer said his city and the bureau were in contact a week ago and he was unaware of any proposal being prepared for Miami commissioners.
"I have always maintained the position that the best place for the bureau to be is in Miami Beach because we are the epicenter of what they are selling," Mr. Dermer said Tuesday. "As far what decision they make or don't make is up to them."
But what kind of future funding the bureau gets from Miami Beach will remain in the hands of those across the bay.
"The current status of the Bureau and Miami Beach is that they are in a two-year contract that comes up for negotiations in the middle of this year," Mayor Dermer said. "I'm sure that when that new contract is being considered, all factors will be considered."