Support builds to revamp Miami Beach Convention Center
By Scott Blake
Facing the prospect of giant casino resorts competing with or becoming a part of the beachside tourism industry, Miami Beach commissioners are reaffirming their opposition to gambling and pressing ahead with plans to renovate the Miami Beach Convention Center.
And they apparently have an ally in Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.
In a Beacon Council forum on casino gambling Monday, Mayor Gimenez said county government's focus should not be on gambling but on upgrading the Miami Beach Convention Center to world-class status — and he pledged to make it happen.
"That should be our number-one priority in this forum, to build a first-class convention center," the mayor said. "I'm going to ask the Board of County Commissioners to take concrete steps to build a world-class convention center."
During a workshop Friday, Miami Beach commissioners lamented that the county has helped fund other big projects — from the controversial deal to build Marlins Stadium to the Port of Miami tunnels — while the convention center has been largely ignored.
Miami Beach City Manager Jorge Gonzalez acknowledged at Friday's workshop that Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn has expressed interest in the Miami Beach Convention Center site, but added: "I don't think the [city] commission will consider a proposal with a casino."
Asked Monday if a new or upgraded center would be in Miami Beach or elsewhere, Mayor Gimenez said: "My druthers is Miami Beach as the legacy convention center. My druthers is we do another at that site… so we don't continuously lose large conventions to other destinations. One way or another, this community needs a world-class convention facility."
The City of Miami Beach, meanwhile, is moving ahead with ideas for the convention center. "We have a consultant group working with us to develop a plan and financing model that could work with a public-private venture," Mr. Gonzalez said Friday.
He said the city has designated 52 acres, including the convention center, for the project.
"The city will explore expanding the height limits on the site now," Mr. Gonzalez added. "We've been meeting with developers and private interests who perhaps would be partners with the city. We've been talking with hotel operators… This will be a competitive process."
Whatever plan emerges, he said, the public will have a say. "It will be a local referendum so residents can decide for themselves whether the project" is worth doing, he added.
Miami Beach will first seek qualifications from prospective developers, then ask them to submit designs, Mr. Gonzalez said. "We're going to kick-start the process with the new year."
At Monday's forum, Mayor Gimenez cautioned the audience not to focus on the Genting Group's proposal for a massive casino in downtown Miami.
"Genting will be only one of a dozen different proposals that comes down," he said before launching into his proposal for county action to expand and upgrade the Miami Beach Convention Center. He gave no details of project size, financing or schedule.
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