Casino legislation imperils Art Basel Miami Beach
By Scott Blake
After building up Art Basel Miami Beach into one of the world's premier art shows, the event's organizers are taking a wait-and-see approach to what the future holds.
That's because of pending bills before the Florida Legislature that could bring up to three massive casino resorts to Greater Miami.
How that could affect one of Miami's premier cultural events remains to be seen.
"To be honest, there are a lot of different possibilities on that front," said Marc Spiegler, Art Basel's co-director for the organizers, MCH Swiss Exhibition Ltd.
"We don't want to get into a lot of hypotheticals," Mr. Spiegler said. "We have worked for 10 years to establish the show to what it is today. It's been a decade of cultural transformation."
He added: "The kinds of [casino] projects that would be created could present great challenges for us. We're watching closely what happens with potential concern. But that's all I can say at this point, without knowing what will happen."
One concern could be what might happen to the Miami Beach Convention Center, where Art Basel is now based, if the so-called "destination gaming" bills are approved during the legislative session beginning in January.
Casino developer Steve Wynn, CEO of Las Vegas-based Wynn Resorts, recently met with Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower and City Manager Jorge Gonzalez about a possible casino project there, with Mr. Wynn walking the site of the Convention Center.
Representatives for Wynn were not available this week to discuss the company's potential plans for Miami Beach.
If the legislation is approved and a casino developer comes in, the City of Miami Beach might sell the Convention Center.
In addition, the city could sell the adjoining parking lot, nearby parking garages and Miami Beach City Hall, which would be demolished to make room for a giant casino resort, according to a Miami Beach city official who asked not to be identified.
However, the official said such conversations are in the early stages and nothing definitive has been discussed.
In addition, special events related to Art Basel at art galleries and studios in neighborhoods near downtown Miami could be impacted by casino resort proposals there.
Malaysia's Genting Group is the only casino developer to come forward with detailed plans, calling for a $3.8 billion complex of hotel rooms, stores, restaurants, bars, housing units and two large casinos on the current site of the Miami Herald and the Omni Center.
That site is near Wynwood and the Design District, which are host to numerous Art Basel-related events both before and after the show's official dates Dec. 1 to 4.
In addition, Las Vegas Sands Corp. has expressed interest in the Miami World Center site, west of the American Airlines Arena and less than a mile from the Genting site.
Meanwhile, Art Basel Miami Beach has built up momentum in recent years to become a major visitor event for Greater Miami during the holiday season.
The original Art Basel in Switzerland, which began in 1970, drew more than 62,000 people last year. Art Basel Miami Beach, which started in 2002, attracted about 46,000 people last year, up from about 25,000 in its first year in 2002, according to Mr. Spiegler.
He said the Miami area was chosen for the show because it serves as an intersection of North America and South America.
While the Swiss show draws mainly from Europe, organizers wanted to host a show in the Western Hemisphere that would capitalize on the large North American art market, he said, as well as drawing from emerging markets in South America.
Today, Art Basel's impact on the Miami area is clear.
During the first week of December 2001 — the year before Art Basel began — area hotel occupancy was 45.3% with an average room rate of $106.87 a night, according to data from Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.
That year, Florida tourism was down in the aftermath of Sept. 11 attacks, said Rolando Aedo, the bureau's vice president of marketing, but Art Basel lifted local tourism in the following years.
In the first week of December 2002 — Art Basel's first year here — hotel occupancy rose to 56% with an average room rate of $112.69. By last year during the week of Art Basel, those numbers had risen to 72.3% occupancy and a $236.73 average room rate, bureau statistics show.
"Art Basel has had a tremendous impact," Mr. Aedo said. "It's like it put the city's burgeoning art scene on steroids."
To read the entire issue of Miami Today online, subscribe to e -Miami Today, an exact digital replica of the printed edition.