Miami International Boat Show spawns waterborne transit push
Written by John Charles Robbins on January 31, 2017
Success of the 2016 Miami International Boat Show in carrying more than 50,000 attendees by water taxis, coupled with continued City of Miami pressure, helped motivate county officials to begin planning waterborne transportation to alleviate road traffic.
Use of water taxis was a panel discussion topic at “The Waterfront,” a Jan. 18 program by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce.
“We have an amazing waterfront,” said Irene S. Hegedus, chief of transportation enhancements for Miami-Dade County, “but we’re not using it for transportation purposes.”
The success of the water taxi system used during the 2016 boat show made it clear that people would be willing to use waterborne transportation, she said.
Ms. Hegedus talked about the county’s aim to soon use water transportation routes.
While much work needs to be done before waterborne transportation is a routine here, the county is working on a plan with two components: a commuter service that would be an extension of the existing Metrorail, Metromover and Metrobus system running on fixed routes and schedules; and an on-demand service, perhaps using private water taxis.
She said the county is working with the state Department of Environmental Resources Management on potential stops along Biscayne Bay and the Miami River for vessels.
The 2016 boat show was held for the first time at the Marine Stadium Park and Basin on Virginia Key, a city-owned site.
Of the more than 100,000 people who came to the show in February, 53,000 arrived in a fleet of water taxis lined up by the organizer, the National Marine Manufacturers Association.
It was telling that hundreds of people were willing to wait in long lines to be taken to Virginia Key over the water instead of on available shuttle buses, said Spencer Crowley, who moderated the panel discussion.
The chamber program invited Ben Wold, boat show manager, to discuss the new venue.
Mr. Crowley said the boat show moving to Virginia Key was a little controversial, yet it seemed like a very good idea to put to use a waterfront property that for the most part has been dormant for years.
The money the city gains from licensing the site for the boat show can be spent on improvements to Virginia Key, he said.
Of the boat show organizers, Mr. Crowley said, “They’re pioneering water taxis.”
“The city needs to reconnect with the waterfront,” he said. “It was a great show and the water taxis were really a great thing.”
In his opening remarks, Mr. Wold reminded everyone that “it’s boat show time,” as the show is to unfold Feb. 16-20. “We’re really looking forward to our second year at our new location,” he said.
Mr. Wold said the new venue can’t be beat, with its one-of-a-kind panoramic view of Biscayne Bay and the backdrop of Miami Marine Stadium, which is scheduled for restoration.
“It’s a showcase to the world,” he said.
“Our exhibitors said it was the best show ever,” Mr. Wold said of the 2016 event. Exhibitors saw sales increase 20% to 400%, he said.
The success of the water taxis was a pleasant surprise, he said. Organizers were hoping to transport about 25,000 on water taxis and were very happy when the total topped 50,000 people.
“We couldn’t keep up with them,” he said.
The 2017 boat show will offer increased and streamlined water taxi service, doubling capacity to 125,000, he said.
Mr. Wold spoke of the significant economic impact of the show, which celebrates its 76th year this year.
He said the boat show is a global destination that puts boating and Miami on an international stage, supporting 6,592 full-time jobs and 55,000 jobs in Florida. Visitors from 35 countries make their way to the show each year.
The show generates nearly $600 million in economic impact annually, Mr. Wold said.
The show also translates to 200,000 hotel room nights, he said. About 33% of exhibitors are based in South Florida.
The organizers thought attendance might drop in 2016 with a switch in locations, but instead the event attracted 100,279 people, 4% more than 2015, he said.
For the 2017 show, organizers have lined up 10 partner hotels, five shuttle bus routes and four water taxi stops, Mr. Wold said.
There are to be 10,000 parking spaces downtown and 4,000 on Virginia Key, plus a direct mini-shuttle from Virginia Key parking lots to the show tents and waterfront docks.
The show will have dedicated Uber and taxi drop-off areas, new food and beverage partner Great Performances, VIP boating experiences and a 35% increase in in-water boat displays.
Mr. Crowley said, “It’s great to see the show growing.”