Miami Beach considers ballroom deal with Cirque du Soleil
By Suzy Valentine
How Miami Beach officials can synchronize use of the Miami Beach Convention Center with Canadian acrobatic troupe Cirque du Soleil is the subject of a report to be ready early next year.
City officials are analyzing joint use of a planned ballroom with Cirque du Soleil, which plans a $150 million overhaul of neighboring, city-owned Jackie Gleason Theater.
The convention center is set to undergo a $55 million remodeling, with most of the funds coming in five or more years from Miami-Dade County's General Obligation Bond issue. In the meantime, city officials want to work out a deal with Cirque du Soleil.
"There could be synergy with the troupe," said Assistant City Manager Hilda Fernandez. "It's entirely feasible that those visiting Miami Beach for a convention will stay an additional night afterward. A report is to be ready in 50 to 90 days."
The entertainment company's plans, Ms. Fernandez said, are discrete from those for the convention center.
"Cirque du Soleil is using private-sector investment through private investors," Ms. Fernandez said. "Our projects are independent, though we have started preliminary discussions with the group about how we could use the same developer as it does for the Jackie Gleason Theater for the ballroom. Cirque du Soleil included the ballroom expansion in its presentations to the city, which has caused some confusion."
The Canadian troupe's interest in the Gleason theater is timely, Ms. Fernandez said. "Some of our tenants, such as the Miami City Ballet, will be moving from the theater in the next year, accounting for a 40% reduction" in bookings.
Shows like those presented by Cirque du Soleil have been responsible for changing the entertainment characteristics of Las Vegas, where the troupe performs up to five times daily.
"Gambling used to account for 50% of revenues in Vegas," Ms. Fernandez said. "That's dropped to 20%, with the bulk coming from entertainment, shopping and eating."
In the meantime, Miami Beach officials are reappraising the need for the ballroom and are to have discussions this week. They last conducted a feasibility study five years ago.
"We're maxed out on exhibition space," Ms. Fernandez said. "An additional 100,000 square feet of exhibition space just isn't going to happen, but tourism goes through trends."
While the city refines its plans for the renovations, there is no clear indication of when work on the convention center will get under way.
"Even if we could break ground, the bulk of the money isn't there," Ms. Fernandez said. "According to the county's timeline for issuing bonds, the project is to benefit most in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Either the renovations are considered for accelerated funds or our timeline will be determined by the allocation schedule."
Meanwhile, Cirque du Soleil is moving on plans without enlisting the support of Canada's consulate general in Miami.
"We've helped them with projects before," said Janet Lopez, consulate political and communications officer, "but as the company has a permanent site in Orlando, it is very familiar with the Florida market. It doesn't require as much assistance as does a new entrant to the market."
Canadians here won't necessarily show national allegiance when Cirque du Soleil performs, Ms. Lopez said. "An impact study for 2004 showed that Canadians are the most loyal of all Florida tourists," she said, "but I don't know that that translates to loyalty to Canadian brands.
"Rather, if you look at how the snowbirds behave, it's clear they become a member of the community and enjoy the arts indiscriminately and without any particular bias."