CITY OF MIAMI BEACH IGNORING INPUT FROM ITS OWN CONVENTION CENTER MANAGEMENT?
When the Miami Beach City Commission meets next month to ostensibly select a developer for the redevelopment of the 52-acre convention center site, commissioners will have the analyses and opinions of numerous individuals and groups – from international event organizers to city staff to community, preservation and business leaders.
However, SunPost has learned that one analysis that apparently won’t be taken into consideration seriously is that of Global Spectrum, the City’s own contract management for the very same convention center.
In May, Global Spectrum’s Tom Mobley delivered a frank and detailed breakdown and comparison of the two proposed projects to the city commission. Today, there is no apparent written report available based on the Global Spectrum analysis and the commission apparently never took the opportunity to ask questions about it – at least in any public setting.
The problem, according to sources present for Mobley’s lengthy analysis, is that Mayor Matti Bower appeared not to like what she heard in the presentation and left the meeting before what was presumed to be a question-and-answer period.
“Mr. Mobley’s presentation was thoughtful,” well-known Miami Beach activist Frank Del Vecchio told SunPost. “[We] were seated close to the speaker’s rostrum, and sensed that Mr. Mobley was expecting questions. He was referring to rough notes as he spoke, wrapped up his observations with a very brief three-point synopsis, and looked up anticipating questions, which had been the pattern for previous speakers. I expected probing questions and a give-and-take which would have been useful. Instead, the mayor’s angry departure from the dais disrupted the orderly flow of the meeting. Members of both the Portman and the Tishman team sat in stunned disbelief at this display. It was impossible at that point for Mr. Mobley to resume, and he left the rostrum. I felt that the public, the commission, and the members of the competing teams had been denied the opportunity to examine with Mr. Mobley, the issues he raised. This was the low point of the entire process.”
Del Vecchio said that Bower stated she didn’t like the way the process was going and angrily left the dais and the room.
“At no subsequent meeting did Mr. Mobley or a representative of Global Spectrum appear for a review of his evaluation,” Del Vecchio added.
Subsequent media reports have asserted that the Global Spectrum analysis has effectively been dismissed without prejudice because Global Spectrum and one of the development groups, Portman CMC, have a Beach publicist in common.
However, the only potential connection between Mobley, Global Spectrum and one of the competing bidders revealed in Mobley’s presentation was actually a tie to the other group, South Beach ACE principle, Tishman.
Even subsequent to the meeting, those wanting to review the content of the Global Spectrum analysis had to locate and view the entire video presentation.
“On May 23 I e-mailed city manager Morales requesting a copy of the Global Spectrum analysis,” Del Vecchio told SunPost. “He replied he would check into it. I learned informally thereafter that the city did not have a copy of his remarks.”
Del Vecchio provided emails to support his story and, indeed, SunPost acquired a transcript of the presentation, which sets the context for the controversy, the alleged erratic behavior from the mayor and the commission snubbing, if not insulting, their own solicited advisor.
Early on in the May 15 meeting, Mobley discussed his qualifications when it comes to analyzing and evaluating the competing bids. He also disclosed his relations or lack thereof with member components of both teams.
“I have worked with both of the convention center architectural teams, TVS and Fentress. Never have worked for them, but as an owner’s rep or in working with them in other ways. I’m familiar with both, I’ve worked with both successfully on convention center projects. I have worked with SAG… they worked for us the authority in Washington DC as we developed a hotel there. I have not worked with either, I’ll follow Jeff’s lead, I have not worked either with Tishman or with Portman. Although, I was involved in a peripheral way with the Jabbott work, which Tishman was involved in. So I have not worked with any of them, although I have worked in collaboration, I have not worked for either of them.”
SunPost was not able to contact Mobley to clarify the connection with Tishman cited in the presentation by deadline.
Following his presentation of credentials, Mobley’s overview of the two proposed project concepts does not appear particularly controversial.
“We were asked to look at both and we have been watching throughout,” Mobley told the commission. “We would prefer to have just been neutral observers, but we’ve been asked more and more to speak with you all. We find that the programs are very similar, are exactly the same. The ballroom, the meeting rooms, the exhibit halls are the same. The lobby space, generally the square footage, the program on paper is basically the same. And even the details are very similar. We have not drilled down into exactly where every wall pocket, where the operative walls would be stored. But, that comes later in a design and development phase in a construction drawing. And given the architects that are working with both teams, there’s no doubt in our minds that those level of details will be taken care of. And the level of design at this stage is not there.
“We wanted to look at the big picture, the broad picture, of the program and then how the rough layout of the building is,” Mobley continued. “As I said, we found a lot of similarities between the two, obviously in program because the RFP called for it. They are the same. And we found a lot of similarities. However, we did find four major areas that caused us to pause and those are the ones that I’ll comment on with you this morning. As I said, the exhibit space, meeting rooms, ballroom, the programs are the same. How they are applied, and where they are located, does change.”
Mobley proceeded to focus on those four major areas – phasing of the projects, proposed layout and flow of the convention center meeting rooms, transportation and traffic and the hotel component’s integration into the overall development. While he did not issue an overall endorsement, according to the transcript of the meeting, his analysis on those areas reflected support for the Portman CMC details.
Conflict cited, conflicts ignored
That apparently did not go over well with some members of the commission. After Commissioner Michael Gongora and Commissioner Jorge Exposito asked probing questions about the analysis, two other members of the commission changed the topic to a more political tone.
“I’m not so sure, and I respect Tom and those, these folks that are running our center,” Commissioner Ed Tobin said. “But, they do have a relationship, to a degree, with one of the people that [is] assisting Portman. So for me, if we can get this opinion perhaps from someone else. Just because I know that if I was on the Tishman team and I was hearing these opinions that favored Portman, I would say, well you know what, Portman’s lobbyist is the same as the lobbyist for these guys, so you know, maybe there’s a relationship there. I’m not saying that there is, I’m not saying that there’s any—anything, just for these types of matters. And I’m not so sure you even know, but sort of the ‘Inside Baseball’ people know that this guy’s this. And it’s a small town and it’s tough to avoid that. I understand it’s tough to avoid that.”
Tobin made clear he was making no allegations and in no way impugning anyone in the process.
But that didn’t seem to be enough for Bower.
“And I have asked that several times to our city manager, you know, that we should be evaluating this with somebody who has no tie whatsoever out of town. I have asked them to find people to look at the numbers. I have asked them several times for the meetings. I have asked them, you know. I believe in the process. I want a convention center. You don’t want to turn me off.
“I don’t like the process the way it’s going. I don’t like the process the way it’s going,” Bower continued. “I don’t like that we don’t have the transparency that we should be having. I feel that it’s not working correctly…”
According to witnesses at the meeting, that was when Bower left the dais and it is where the transcript ends. It’s notable that no member of the commission questioned the validity of the Global Spectrum analysis early in the presentation when Mobley described working in “collaboration” with Tishman previously. Only when the analysis was complete and favored Portman CMC did any commission member decide to comment on any potential conflict.
Bower did not respond to two emails seeking responses to questions related to the Global Spectrum presentation, about whether or not she has been lobbied by any former commission members or city employees on behalf of one development group or the other, and several other queries related to the convention center redevelopment.
Even timid references to perceived conflicts is perhaps ironic for the commission. Former commissioner and well-known local activist Victor Diaz is one of Bower’s longest-term allies, strongly supported the concept of redeveloping the convention center, and is now on the South Beach ACE (Tishman) team. Identified in other media previously as a lobbyist for South Beach ACE, the development team last week told SunPost that Diaz’s role was as “community outreach consultant and principal of Miami Beach-based Diaz Partners.”
Quietly some observers wonder if Bower and perhaps other commission members who served with Diaz should recues themselves from voting in the final selection.
Bower isn’t the only commissioner who did not respond to a request for comments on the Global Spectrum incident, lobbying by former colleagues and other controversial aspects of the proposed project. Commissioner Ed Tobin was out of town and unavailable for comment. Commissioners Exposito, Deede Weithorn and Jerry Libbin did not respond to the same set of questions.
Commissioner Jonah Wolfson, a critic of the entire redevelopment concept who believes the public should be able to vote on the entire project, told SunPost that the behind-the-scenes lobbying started long ago.
“Robert Wennett lobbied me before this whole process started,” Wolfson said. “He wanted this put out to bid. He said it was in the best interest of the community and that he would never bid on it. At the time he was an unregistered lobbyist. Obviously, he lied since he is now both feet in trying to get us to sell our quality of life so he can make a bunch of money.”
Wennett is a local developer and president of UIA Management, part of the South Beach ACE team.
Wolfson is critical of all of the advice being presented to commissioners. “All the experts we hired are tainted,” he said. “We have no independent information.”
Commissioner Michael Gongora responded to the entire question slate, and after having asked the only substantive — and not political — questions in what little time was available for them at the Global Spectrum presentation, he isn’t willing to completely disregard the analysis that, after all, the City requested from their convention center management group.
“I was present at the May 15th Miami Beach Convention Center Workshop when Global Spectrum presented their analysis,” Gongora said. “I did not meet with Global Spectrum afterwards. As with any decision I make I will review their analysis and take it into consideration and exercise my independent judgment.”
Gongora went on to say that he has not been lobbied by any former member of the city commissioner or city employee.
The Four Factors
Not that Bower was the only one displeased with the Global Spectrum analysis. Attorneys representing South Beach ACE sent an accusatory letter to the City seeking to correct the facts Mobley presented and calling his presentation “intentionally misleading.”
Among other things claimed by attorney Albert E. Dotson Jr. with the firm of Bilzin Sumberg, Mobley misrepresented South Beach ACE’s construction timeline and several other components. No evidence of “intentionally misleading” the commission was presented and the letter also contained considerable criticism of South Beach ACE’s competition.
In response to the Dotson letter of May 23, Portman CMC sent city officials a letter on June 15. While less accusatory than the Bilzin Sumberg letter, it did go into some detail supporting the observations presented by Global Spectrum and rebutting each of the “corrections” made in the letter from Bilzin Sumberg.
When the commission does take the item up again in July, however, some wonder if all the renderings, facts and figures and statistics will mean anything when it comes to a decision being made by politicians – in an election year for several, no less.
“Of course this decision will be made based on politics,” said one longtime city hall observer, on condition of anonymity. “All of their decisions are made on politics. None of them will be around when all of this finally comes online so it’s all about the now with them. And that means politics. You can see where this is going, right?”
If it is indeed all about politics, the majority of the city commission is choosing to remain silent on the topic, and several others, this week. For some with a long history in Miami Beach politics, that speaks volumes.