Hotel could be in plan for Miami Beach Convention Center revamp, possibly with private sector help
By Risa Polansky
The Miami Beach Convention Center could be revamped and expanded to include a hotel — potentially with the help of private partners — depending on the results of a study Miami-Dade Commissioner Rebeca Sosa is pushing.
She's to propose at a Recreation, Culture & Tourism Committee on Monday that county officials prepare a feasibility study and funding options for retrofitting and expanding the center, including developing an on-site hotel.
"I sincerely believe that it's time to pay attention to our convention center," Ms. Sosa said Tuesday. "It's old, it's in need of an incredible improvement, and we can make it state of the art if we decide to do so."
Updating the aging center has been a hot topic among tourism and hotel players for years.
The last major revamp was in 1989.
In 2004, voters agreed to allot $55 million in general obligation bond dollars for upgrades — but it's yet to be spent.
"This is a long overdue improvement," said William Talbert III, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. "Most of the cities in the world have improved, enhanced, expanded their convention centers, and we haven't."
He endorsed the commissioner's measure, saying it "may very well move this whole project along."
Ms. Sosa gave Mr. Talbert credit for helping review the proposed legislation.
Part of the study would include exploring public-private partnership options for the hotel component — and Mr. Talbert said he sees potential.
"We've already had meetings with the private sector, and there are opportunities on the hotel side to partner with the private sector," he said.
He could not share who, "but there is interest out there, and there are financing mechanisms out there, even today," Mr. Talbert said, adding that he's talked "with folks who say these are doable deeds."
Ms. Sosa said she hopes also Convention Development Tax revenues could support center improvements, though millions in tourist tax revenue is lined up to back a new Marlins stadium.
"The idea is that if we are approving other items using convention development taxes, we need to make sure that we allocate the funds that are needed to improve, retrofit and be able to do what is necessary on the convention center… We need to attract big conventions," Ms. Sosa said.
Mr. Talbert agreed that "convention facilities are part of what great global destinations do," and noted that "at the end of the day, there's a lot of competition in the world."
Stuart Blumberg, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Miami & The Beaches Hotel Association, has long been vocal about the need to upgrade the center.
He said he was unaware of Ms. Sosa's upcoming proposal and questioned whether her efforts would duplicate those of a recent study.
In her legislation, Ms. Sosa acknowledges the Conventions Sports & Leisure study, which recommends a new ballroom, more meeting and exhibit space and, eventually, a convention center hotel.
The commissioner's measure would serve to plan for the retrofit, including timelines and funding options.
If commissioners OK it, the study would be due in 90 days.