Miami Beach Convention Center improvement plans coming together
By Risa Polansky
Plans are gelling to push forward long-discussed improvements to the Miami Beach Convention Center, with Miami-Dade commissioners considering three revamp-related measures.
The commission unanimously approved legislation by Commissioner Rebeca Sosa this month asking county administrators to prepare alternatives and funding options for retrofitting and expanding the aging center, including developing an on-site hotel.
County efforts are to be based on an existing City of Miami Beach feasibility study.
Voters agreed in 2004 to allot $55 million in general obligation bond money to renovate the center.
It's yet to be spent.
County commissioners are to consider at a meeting next week two items tied to the allocation.
One would change the project description from "renovate the Miami Beach Convention Center" to "expand and enhance the Miami Beach Convention Center."
A ballroom facility and on-site hotel are among some suggestions.
The other calls for tweaks to an agreement between the county and the City of Miami Beach regarding the revamp.
One change would make it easier to access the $55 million in general obligation bond dollars even if work runs behind.
The existing agreement says if milestones aren't within 10% of completion according to set timetables, money for future benchmarks can be withheld for a year.
If approved, the new language would loosen the requirements to 25% and allow the money be held back for only three months.
The other change deals with crediting the county for its involvement in the planned revamp of the Miami Beach facility.
The existing agreement says the county's logo must be displayed on the center half the number of times the most frequently named sponsor is credited, with lettering no less than 75% the size of the largest lettering used for sponsors' logos.
The new language instead would call for a county logo every time a city logo is used.
Commissioners are to consider those changes July 21.
At their July 2 meeting, they agreed to Ms. Sosa's call to explore alternatives and funding options for expanding the center — though not without some complaints.
None protested her idea of piggybacking on the existing city study to push revamp ideas ahead.
They did, however, question why the proposal came from her.
Ms. Sosa's district covers parts of Miami, Hialeah and Coral Gables.
Bruno Barreiro is Miami Beach's elected county representative.
The convention center is on the Beach but considered a regional asset.
Mr. Barreiro supported Ms. Sosa's measure after amending it to ensure the City of Miami Beach participates in the process and issues an opinion on the county's findings before they're brought to commissioners.
"While the convention center is definitely a regional facility… the city's a big part of this because they've got to operate and maintain this facility," he said.
Ms. Sosa said she "totally accepted" his addition to her legislation.
But other commissioners piped up to question the process.
"I think we're forgetting a piece here in this," Natacha Seijas said, noting that Mr. Barreiro represents the Beach.
Ms. Sosa, who said she was offended by Ms. Seijas's comment, reminded commissioners that she's the county's representative to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The bureau made clear the need for upgrades to the center, which affects the whole county, she said.
Barbara Jordan agreed with Ms. Seijas, pointing out that often commissioners call public powwows when they have ideas that affect others' districts.
"I do feel that the collegiality should be foremost in terms of respecting the areas, whether it's regional or not, and giving that district commissioner the opportunity by having a sunshine meeting," she said.
Carlos Gimenez sided with Ms. Sosa, asserting that the sponsor is not the point.
"It's a good idea, and I think that we need to go and move on on this," he said.
Updating the aging center has been a hot topic among tourism and hotel players for years, with the center becoming increasingly uncompetitive with other, newer facilities around the country.
The last major renovation of the center was in 1989.