Downtown Miami convention center idea nettles Miami Beach officials
By Scott E. Pacheco
Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower wants the Miami Downtown Development Authority to slow down its plans to commission a study for a downtown convention center, her top aide says.
Ms. Bower is writing new Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado in hope of opening dialogue with the commissions of both cities and the DDA to discuss options to enhance the Miami Beach Convention Center, said her chief of staff, Rebecca Wakefield.
The development authority included as part of its 2025 master plan a five- to 10-year goal of building a "Convention/Conference Center of the Americas" to "bring additional economic activity to Downtown Miami."
But with the Beach's center recently OK'd to start using $55 million in county bond money for improvements, and many saying more is needed, dumping money into another project is bothersome, as is the possible poaching of events, Ms. Wakefield said.
But Neisen Kasdin, development authority vice chair and former Miami Beach mayor, said enough question marks surround the existing facilities to move forward with "an objective, independent analysis of the needs for conference and convention facilities in Miami-Dade County."
While he said "clearly it does not make sense to have two major convention centers," he said the Beach does have "restraints," such the inability to build more hotels near the convention center and its public transportation gap, whereas downtown has the MetroMover.
"You have to look at future needs of the community, and just because something has always been a certain way doesn't mean it has to stay a certain way," said Mr. Kasdin, adding that "any process should include the Beach and include the county, should be a fact-driven process and should not be based on political parochialism."
Stuart Blumberg, president of the Greater Miami & the Beaches Hotel Association, said more discussion should have taken place about the regional asset.
"You would think that representatives of the DDA would have sat down with representatives of the City of Miami Beach and discussed this," he said.
Mayor Bower and Miami Beach City Manager Jorge Gonzalez met Tuesday with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez to discuss, among other things, the convention center study proposal, Ms. Wakefield said.
The last convention center study, done in 2002 by CSL International, indicated that construction of a "first-class, mid-sized convention center in downtown Miami is not supportable at this time from a market perspective."
Former Miami commissioner Johnny Winton served on a task force that oversaw that study.
"One of the things that many people downtown felt was missing, particularly the hoteliers, in the overall formula for a successful downtown was the significant lack of meeting space in the downtown area," Mr. Winton said.
In order for it work now, he said, a public-private partnership would probably be needed. "The one place where there is land where it could make sense with some guys who have some big plans is part of the WorldCenter in ParkWest."
Mr. Kasdin said it could also work in the old Miami Arena site and the Omni mall.