Beach commissioners to budget bond funds in February workshop
By Claudio Mendonça
Miami Beach's mayor and city commission are to decide in an early February workshop how to deploy $55 million from county General Obligation Bond funds for convention-center improvements.
Options for the 49-year-old Miami Beach Convention Center range from adding a 50,000-square-foot ballroom to building a permanent space for the Cirque du Soleil in the neighboring Jackie Gleason Theater. Mayor David Dermer said one proposal to accommodate Cirque du Soleil involves a joint venture that could include developer Jorge Perez, chairman and CEO of the Related Group.
"There are different schools of thought on what to do with the $55 million," Mr. Dermer said. "I want to wait for a solid proposal to try to make a judgment."
The mayor said City Manager Jorge Gonzalez and Commissioner Simon Cruz just returned from Cirque du Soleil headquarters in Montreal, where they met with the entertainment group's executives.
"In essence, the Cirque would lease the Jackie Gleason, which would have its capacity reduced from 2,000 to 1,700 seats," Mr. Cruz said. "They would need a bigger stage."
Mr. Cruz said money for theater reconfiguration could come from Cirque du Soleil, the city, the Related Group and Clear Channel Communications. He said nothing has been decided and talks are in embryonic stages.
"The workshop in February is to decide what is to be done," said Doug Tober, senior general manager of Spectator Management Group, which manages the convention center. "The commission will be looking at projects from top to bottom, its costs and viability."
The workshop's date has not been set.
The center contains 1.1 million square feet. Its largest meeting room has 21,000 square feet.
Roger Hernstadt, Miami-Dade County director of capital improvement, said the county commission approved the schedule for disbursement of the bond funds and it is up to Miami Beach to decide what to do with the $55 million.
"We are ready to go, and now we are waiting for the commission to make a decision," Mr. Hernstadt said. "They have to sign a contract with the county."
Mayor Dermer said even though the city must make a decision, the final word comes from the county. "In reality, the county is the one controlling the bond issue," he said. "If they don't want to, that's the end of talks."
William Talbert III, president of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the Jackie Gleason Theater could accommodate Cirque du Soleil permanently because events such as the Broadway Series will be transferred to the new Miami Performing Arts Center.
"This is an effort by Miami Beach to find a replacement for events at the Jackie Gleason," Mr. Talbert said. "The workshop will bring all parts together to look at issues and Cirque. We applaud the city commission for doing that."
Talks concerning an addition to the 50,000 square-foot ballroom date to November 2001, when Minnesota hospitality-consulting firm Convention Sports & Leisure finished a study on the project. The company completed an updated version last fall.
The price tag is estimated at $50 million, stakeholders heard at a meeting of the consulting firm, hotel association representatives, Miami Beach staff, architects, SMG Inc. and the visitors bureau.