Miami Beach Convention Center close to tapping $55 million in renovation money
By Risa Polansky
Miami Beach within two weeks is to get some of the $55 million from Miami-Dade that county voters agreed five years ago should revamp the city's aging convention center — but even all $55 million might not do the job.
"Everything's been essentially agreed upon," said Max Sklar, city tourism and cultural development director.
The county and city should formally sign the agreement to release the bond money in about two weeks, he said, allowing the city to cement a contract with an architect for a master plan of the center site and surrounding area.
"Hallelujah!" said Stuart Blumberg, president and CEO of the Greater Miami & The Beaches Hotel Association and chair of the Miami Beach Convention Center Advisory Board. "This is as close as we've come since we started this process back in 2001… and it's great."
The city in September 2008 tapped Miami-based Arquitectonica to create the master plan, which is to piggyback on a "needs analysis" that firm Conventions Sports & Leisure presented last year and finalized this year.
That report recommends a ballroom, more meeting and exhibit space and eventually a convention center hotel.
The city is to receive the county bond funds in installments.
Miami Beach commissioners authorized spending up to $573,643 on Arquitectonica.
Mr. Sklar said he expects the firm's master plan recommendations to exceed the $55 million bond allocation.
"I anticipate all the improvements they talk about, the long-term master plan for the convention center area, is likely to exceed $55 million," he said, "and then we'd need to work to find additional funding sources to fund the rest of the improvements."
Miami-Dade Commissioner Rebeca Sosa this summer kicked off a process to explore other funding.
The county in July unanimously approved her legislation asking administrators to prepare alternatives and funding options for retrofitting and expanding the aging center, including developing an on-site hotel.
The efforts are to also be based on the existing needs analysis to avoid duplication.
The last major center revamp was in 1989.
Industry players for years have lamented the facility's outdated amenities and lack of a ballroom.
In June, when Commissioner Sosa unveiled her convention center legislation, Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau chief William Talbert III heralded the move.
"Most of the cities in the world have improved, enhanced, expanded their convention centers," he said, "and we haven't."
Once plans are complete, the idea is to begin work using available funds, Mr. Sklar said.
"It's prioritizing — phasing things in. We'd phase things in based upon needs and priority," he said, noting that regardless of funding capacity, redevelopment couldn't all go on at once. "We're going to still have to deal with all our clients and users of the building… There's only so much you can do at a specific given time, so you're going to have to phase in the work anyhow."
The Miami Beach Convention Center Advisory Board is to meet at noon Sept. 8.