Billboard Latin Music Awards, NBC's Gravity Games check out Miami Arena
By Susan Stabley
The Billboard Latin Music Awards show is ready to move this year from Miami Beach to the Miami Arena.
Together bringing more than 1,000 Latin recording stars, executives and insiders, Billboard's annual Latin music conference and show has been held in the area for 13 years, according to organizers. This year's meetings, where booking agents mix with club owners and musicians to make pitches to producers, will return May 5-8 to the Eden Roc Resort & Spa on the Beach, but those headed to the awards will have to cross the bay May 8 to downtown Miami.
The Billboard show is one of many new high-profile events in the works for the 15,000-seat arena, also in contention for NBC's 2004 Gravity Games.
That deal could entail a three-year contract with the network, said Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority Executive Director Jim Jenkins. The authority is landlord of the 13-year-old Miami Arena and responsible for providing exhibition space and sponsoring community and sports events.
"It's set up like the 'X Games' and spread out over many venues, one being the arena," Mr. Jenkins said.
Debuted in 1999 to rival to ESPN's Extreme Games, Gravity Games features events such as inline skating, skateboarding and street luge.
The games will be played this year in Cleveland, but organizers will soon start looking at host sites for 2004, said Wade Martin, Gravity Games executive director.
"We are interested and have had talks with Miami," said Mr. Martin. "It's certainly in the running. We think it's a great city, a great location, but we have made no decision beyond 2003."
"It's certainly a possibility," adds Kevin Monaghan, NBC Sports vice president of business development. "[But] we still owe another year to Cleveland."
For the Billboard awards show, the switch from the Beach's 2,705-seat Jackie Gleason Theater is to accommodate a larger audience, said Jeff Peel, director of Miami-Dade's Mayor's Office of Film and Entertainment.
A representative for Telemundo, the awards show producer, said the contract isn't yet signed with the Miami Arena but should be soon.
Built in 1989 as home to the NBA's Miami Heat and later the NHL's Florida Panthers, the arena has lost many of its major users.
Its deficit has fluctuated during the last two years: projected at more than $900,000 in April and estimated as high as $2 million last summer. There also is a debt of more than $30 million in special obligation bonds.
This year's authority budget is still pending, delayed by members who are working out how last year's takeover of management of the Miami Arena affects finances.
Still, Mr. Jenkins balks at notions that Miami Arena lies idle and points to its use for recent commercials. The "Bad Boys II" film crew shot scenes there this winter and in October, pop singer Shakira practiced there 30 days and held a private performance.
The authority is also "having a dialogue," Mr. Jenkins said, with possible hockey and lacrosse AA expansion teams and arena football.
"They were very good conversations," he said, "very positive."