Miami Beach renews its wooing of Miami visitors bureau
By Susan Stabley
Miami Beach leaders are renewing their push for the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau to move its headquarters to their city.
But they face new competition, as officials from the Coconut Grove Chamber of Commerce also have extended an invitation.
On the same day that the bureau's executive committee decided to abandon plans to move its headquarters into an $11.7 million Watson Island Aviation & Visitors Center, Coconut Grove Chamber of Commerce President Seth Gordon sent a letter requesting a meeting with bureau President and CEO William Talbert.
"The letter basically said, 'Hi. We'd love to play with you. If you'd love to play with us, let's sit down and talk,' " said Karen del Valle, executive director of the Coconut Grove Chamber of Commerce
Mr. Gordon said he wants to take bureau officials on a walking tour of the "family-oriented" Grove to show off its options and has spoken with Mr. Talbert.
With Watson Island out, the bureau must decide whether to renew its lease at 701 Brickell Ave., which expires in June, or find a new home.
After the executive committee decision Thursday, Mr. Talbert said Miami Beach locations that had been considered for the bureau are back on the table.
"This is something I've been advocating for quite some time. I'm happy to see the bureau is coming around," Miami Beach Mayor David Dermer said Friday. "I have always had the belief that the beach is the epicenter of why people come to the region. It would be natural for the bureau to be located in Miami Beach."
Luring the bureau to Miami Beach may be more a matter of what the agency has to lose by not moving to the other side of Biscayne Bay.
No financial incentives are being considered to bring the bureau to the beach, said Miami Beach City Manager Jorge Gonzalez.
But Miami Beach could sever financial ties to the bureau. Miami Beach - along with Miami-Dade County, Miami and the Village of Bal Harbour - helps fund the bureau but it in the final year of a two-year contract.
The bureau has been trying to get a contract for 10 years or longer.
Miami Beach is contributing $5.8 million of the bureau's $17.8 million budget this year.
Mayor Dermer has contended that his city's money could be used to hire a firm to sell only Miami Beach's attributes rather than having the city sold as a destination with the rest of Miami-Dade County.
Results from California-based consultant Economics Research Associates - hired to assess the bureau's governance, structure, processes and overall operations - is due at the end of this month and will be sent to committees to digest the information, Mr. Gonzalez said.
"The message is very clear," he said. "Whatever we will do with the bureau, we'll start thinking about it now."
Last year, Miami Beach officials asked the bureau to consider moving to the city as part of the last contract renewal.
While in negotiations with Miami for the Watson Island project, bureau officials told Miami Beach officials that they would evaluate office space there.
Now, with the Watson Island project killed, Miami Beach sites as well as new options are back under consideration.
Possible locations at Miami Beach include an Art Deco building at Washington Avenue and Fifth Street, property at 420 Lincoln Road and The Lincoln on 17th Street at Michigan and Jefferson, which the bureau had favored as the best option.
Or, a new headquarters could be placed on a floor of a proposed expansion of the Miami Beach Convention Center that would triple its ballroom and add parking. The center, now stretching across four blocks in Miami Beach, is considered the largest indoor meeting space in South Florida, with more than 500,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space and 68 meeting rooms.
"It makes absolute sense. It's right next to the building the bureau is trying to sell," Mr. Gonzalez said. The project, in the design phase, could be altered to include offices for the bureau.
The timeline for the project is tied to the question of whether Miami-Dade County will pursue the possibility of a new baseball stadium. Miami Beach could receive $50 million in convention development taxes if the county does not go forward with plans by Dec. 1, Mr. Gonzalez said. Those funds would help fund the expansion.
"The clock is ticking," he said.