Miami Beach hunts consultant to manage convention center revamp
By Zachary Fagenson
Miami Beach has kicked off the hunt for a consultant to essentially manage, from soup to nuts, the long-sought revamp of the Miami Beach Convention Center.
If all goes according to plan, the chosen firm could get to work as soon as August, but if hurdles arise it's unclear when work might start, further delaying improvements.
Proponents of overhauling the center recently hit a wall when two bills in the state legislature that could have funded the $640 million master plan failed in committee.
Shortly after, a Convention Center Advisory Board met and asked the city commission to report back a plan for moving forward by late summer.
Miami Beach at the moment has only $55 million for the project.
The city's administration has admitted the need for a firm to help with finding funds, private or public; conceptualizing a plan based on the center's needs; assisting the city in developing a competitive process to bring key participants into the projects; evaluating and selecting the participating; negotiating the terms, and "assist[ing] in any other duties as requested by the city."
The firm could do anything from lead public input sessions on the size and scope of the project, which has come under fire from some homeowners associations, to negotiate with hoteliers to develop an attached headquarters hotel and contribute funds toward overhaul of the center.
The firm is to be paid about $100,000 for its work, according to Max Sklar, director of tourism and cultural development for Miami Beach, yet architectural firm Arquitectonica was paid more than $500,000 to develop a design for a new center based on advisory board suggestions.
The current plan would expand center exhibit space from 500,000 square feet in four halls to more than 700,000 spread across six, add 1 million square feet to the center, add 81,000 square feet of previously non-existent ballroom area and an onsite garage that would boost parking from 3,700 cars to more than 4,100.
The center opened in 1957 with about 100,000 square feet of exhibit space. The last major upgrade, in 1989, expanded that to 502,000. An economic impact study cited letters from firms like Microsoft that had met at the center but wouldn't return unless it was upgraded.
The city hosted a pre-proposal submission meeting for interested firms last week and final pitches are due at 3 p.m. June 24.
City commissioners are to decide July 13 whether to authorize negotiations with the city staff's recommendation. The contract's projected start date is later that month or August.
"We'll try to fast track" negotiations, Mr. Sklar said.
Yet a handful of hurdles could slow progress on the projects, already 11 years in the making.
"The city's making a move to get expertise to put this whole thing together notwithstanding the fact that there are other variables that now get entered into the mix," said Stu Blumberg, tourism industry veteran and Convention Center Advisory Board chair. Though he commended the city for trying to move the effort forward, issues like Malaysian developer Genting Malaysia Berhad's purchase of the Miami Herald site and its plans for a casino and convention center, the Miami Downtown Development Authority's study for a convention center in the city's urban core and whether Miami Beach in the next legislative session will again seek a way to fund the improvements through raising Miami-Dade tourist taxes might complicate things.
"You throw in those variables and I don't think anybody can predict the timeline," Mr. Blumberg said.
Mr. Sklar of Miami Beach said the city will soon issue an addendum to the request for proposals that sets out "periodic deliverables over the next 18 months."
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