Miami Beach Convention Center upgrade gets thumbs-up, no payment plan
By Zachary S. Fagenson
The Miami Beach committee responsible for guiding the million-square-foot overhaul and expansion of the convention center has approved design firm Arquitectonica's $640 million plan, sending it on to the Miami Beach City Commission with no discussion of how it would be funded.
"Funding comes later," City Manager Jorge Gonzalez said.
At nearly the same time, The Greater Miami & The Beaches Hotel Association came out in support of the Miami Dolphins' plan to simultaneously fund convention center improvements along with about $225 million worth of improvements to the team-owned Sun Life Stadium.
"We passed a resolution in support of the renovation and expansion of the Miami Beach Convention Center basically stating we want to accelerate the already 10-year process and that we are in support of the Dolphins' bill," said association President Wendy Kallergis. "We will also support other initiatives that are being reviewed and will be reviewed in case anything else comes up by the City of Miami Beach [or] Miami-Dade County.
The Dolphins' plan is tied to a bill filed by state Rep. Erik Fresen, a Miami Republican, that would allow Miami-Dade and Broward County commissions to increase one tourist tax by a penny and put the proceeds toward a convention center revamp.
The hotel association is the first major group to support the Dolphins' plan. CEO Mike Dee has been scouring the region for support and recently pitched it to the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and the Latin Builders Association.
The team recently upped the ante, offering 60% of the new revenues from the proposed expanded taxes for the convention center and 40% for the Dolphins.
At the same time, Sen. Mike Bennett, a Bradenton Republican, is said to be working on a bill that would allow for an increase in the Convention Development Tax to fund the Beach convention center improvements, cutting the Dolphins out of the deal.
The committee's vote moves the convention center plan to the city commission's Finance and Citywide Projects Committee, which is to take up the matter Feb. 18. At that time, the possibility of bringing in a private hotel operator to build a facility attached to the center is also to be discussed.
The majority of Arquitectonica Senior Vice President Sergio Bakas's presentation focused on design elements of projects, including changes to the building's façade requested by committee members at a previous meeting.
The firm also restructured the proposed progression of construction so that the upgraded center would have new, sellable convention space available after four years of construction rather than eight under a previous plan.
Also discussed was how overhaul of the center might affect surrounding streets and pedestrian walkways as well as entrances to the Miami Beach Botanical Garden and the Holocaust Memorial, issues that will have to be sorted out as architects and urban planners hammer out details.
The plan expands the center's first floor exhibit halls from more than 500,000 square feet in four halls to 715,000 spread across six halls. The upgraded second floor would add 30,000 square feet of meeting room space to the existing 57,000.
The third floor, which now is only support space, would be expanded to add 55,000 square feet of meeting rooms and 81,600 square feet of ballrooms.
A fourth floor would be added with 54,160 square feet of meeting rooms along with lobby space and back-of-house and service space.
The vast increases in convention and meeting space, however, aren't match by parking increases. The plan calls for replacing a 900-space surface lot with a 1,498-space garage. Including surrounding city-owned parking lots, total spaces available for the center would grow from 3,750 to 4,188.
As the meeting wrapped up, some attendees criticized the project for not taking into account the effect of the construction and the finished project on the surrounding community.
Bayshore Boulevard Homeowners Association President John D. Corey said he recognized the need for the upgraded center but was concerned about its impact when not in use and the overall project.
"I think we need to think about this critically," he said. "Who's going to pay for the hotel?"
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