Convention center developer pick due soon
By Scott Blake
Wanting to move beyond controversy that has stalled a plan to create a convention center district, Miami Beach commissioners hope to have recommendations ready by December to select developers for the project.
Commissioners also hope to select developers in December for a separate nearby project to redevelop city lots near the Lincoln Road shopping mall.
Both projects have been bogged down in controversy from conflict-of-interest and procedural complaints with city committees that evaluated bidders.
In addition, the process had been delayed by a corruption investigation earlier this year centered on the city's former procurement director, Gus Lopez, whose office was overseeing bidding on the projects.
Delays also were caused by last summer's resignation of the city manager, Jorge Gonzalez, who was involved in developing concepts and parameters for the projects.
As a result, commissioners voted last week to restart the evaluation process, directing city administrators to form a new committee for the so-called Lincoln Lane project while keeping the existing committee for the Convention Center, minus one member who recently resigned.
Both committees are expected to review videotape of the past presentations from development teams vying for the projects, then meet with the teams individually, hold public deliberation sessions and re-rank the teams for commissioners to consider.
The moves are intended to quell speculation that the committees were not as fair or open to the public as they should have been in previously carrying out the process.
"Miami Beach [City Hall] is under a microscope every day" because of all that has happened this year, Commissioner Jerry Libbin said, explaining the moves.
Although a date hasn't been set for the committees to report back with their recommendations for the winning bidders, commissioners hope the process can be completed within two months.
"Sooner rather than later is better," said Commissioner Deede Weithorn.
Last week, Mr. Lopez and two associates were arrested on corruption charges related to the awarding of city contracts, but authorities said the charges are not connected to the Convention Center or Lincoln Lane projects.
Meanwhile, Interim City Manager Kathie Brooks and her administrative team are overseeing the Convention Center and Lincoln Lane projects while the city searches for a permanent manager. Mr. Gonzalez resigned in July amid mounting criticism of his administration.
Mr. Gonzalez's 12-year tenure was shaken in April when federal authorities filed extortion charges against seven city code and fire inspectors — shortly after Mr. Lopez abruptly resigned in March amid reports he was being investigated for various improprieties. Mr. Lopez has maintained his innocence.
Although Mr. Gonzalez has not been implicated in any wrongdoing and had proposed sweeping initiatives to address the problems, by then some commissioners and residents called for the city manager to be held accountable in some way.
Commissioners will look to Ms. Brooks to recommend who should be on the new Lincoln Lane committee, while leaving a seat vacant on the Convention Center committee from the recent resignation of Elsie Howard.
Ms. Howard left her seat on both committees in frustration over an allegation that she was connected to one of the bidders. She denied having a connection and the allegation was never substantiated.
Mr. Libbin said commissioners hope to have the committees' new rankings of the bidders in time to select winners in December and to get the projects underway soon thereafter. The city's meeting schedule shows commissioners will meet Dec. 12, or Dec. 19 as an alternate date.
However, Ms. Weithorn said the process might take longer, depending on how fast the each step can be completed.
The Convention Center plan calls for selecting developers to partner with the city to renovate and expand the iconic facility — aimed at stimulating conventions, tradeshows and meetings business.
Mr. Gonzalez had wanted to minimize the city's investment in the project by relying as much as possible on private investment, and allowing the developers to come up with ideas for creating a Convention Center district, perhaps with an adjoining hotel, an entertainment complex and public areas.
The concept called for redeveloping up to a 52-acre city-owned site, including the Convention Center and its parking lots, the adjoining Jackie Gleason/Fillmore Theater, Miami Beach City Hall across the street, and the nearby 17th Street municipal parking garage.
A similar formula for nearby Lincoln Lane calls for selecting developers to redevelop several city-owned lots off of the Lincoln Road shopping mall, also allowing developers to create within a given framework, such as building affordable retail space for small businesses.
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