Miami launches search for downtown convention center site
By Paola Iuspa
National consultants are touring more than a dozen downtown Miami sites this week to help identify locations for a new convention center.
The Downtown Development Authority is convinced Miami would benefit from a convention center in its business district to serve delegations not in need of a venue as large as the Miami Beach Convention Center but requiring more space than hotels offer, said John Kaatz, vice president with CSL International of Minnesota.
CSL, a firm specializing in sports, entertainment and leisure industries, has been hired by the downtown authority and will rank site recommendations by late August. A local task force of authority members and business leaders, mostly from the hospitality sector, will choose a location.
The idea is to secure a parcel before the downtown area runs out of land or it becomes too expensive, consultants said Tuesday at their first meeting with the Downtown Miami Convention Center Task Force, being chaired by City of Miami Commissioner Johnny Winton.
"If in four to six years the demand for convention space is not there," Mr. Winton said, "then we won't build the convention center."
The consultants will prepare their $87,000 report, paid for by the city and Downtown Development Authority, with help from HOK Sport + Venue + Event of Missouri, an architecture firm with experience in public buildings.
The idea for a new convention center was born out of a countywide study released in November and commissioned by the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. After analyzing convention space throughout Miami-Dade, CSL, also author of that report, recommended a new facility in four to six years, if existing space was better used.
While the need for the downtown center is not said to be immediate, the November report recommended securing a site and finances for future needs.
The largest convention venue in the county is now the 1 million-square-foot Miami Beach Convention Center with 645,000 square feet of exhibit and meeting space. But more than 50% of all events booked there require 125,000 square feet of space or less, according to the November study.
That study also showed that the Miami Beach center could market to larger groups if a 50,000-square-foot meeting room and banquet halls were added.
Under this plan for growth, a new downtown facility would absorb medium-sized groups and Miami Beach could attract larger delegations. Mr. Kaatz said the proposed center would not compete with existing hotels in the downtown area because they usually attract groups that need no more than 50,000 square feet of meeting space.
This week, the task facing Mr. Kaatz' group is to find 5 to 10 acres in Miami's business district for a 440,000-square-foot center with 100,000 to 150,000 square feet of meeting space.
Consultants will analyze the downtown hotel inventory and visitor industry resources and identify facilities across the region that could compete for the same market. They also will project a five-year event and attendee breakdown and recommend a configuration for the venue, draft a financial and economic impact analysis, develop a possible time line for construction and review funding options, according to CSL.
Once the $87,000 report is presented to the Downtown Development Authority, it will be up to the newly created Downtown Miami Convention Center Task Force to select a site. Construction could begin in four to six years.
While the task force does not include any Miami Beach city officials, Chairman Winton emphasized he would not support a new facility to compete with the Beach's convention center. The 23-member task force consists Miami City staff and business leaders, mostly in the hospitality industry, and Commissioner Winton.
While the authority, a nonprofit group in charge of attracting investment and development to the downtown, is spearheading the effort, the City of Miami is paying 50% of the study, with the downtown agency paying 25% and the Miami Parking Authority paying another 25%.