Loyal Opposition


While five members of the Miami Beach City Commission last week firmly and unquestionably selected development team, South Beach ACE as master developer for the 52-acre Miami Beach Convention Center site, a pair of dissenting members have good arguments for the other, less expensive – but also less politically-connected – development team, Portman-CMC.

Portman-CMC was also the bidder recommended by the City’s professional staff, including City Manager Jimmy Morales, two apolitical citizens’ committees and Miami Beach’s own consultants. The losing bidder also engendered the endorsement of international show producers; whereas the winning team had the support of a powerful local lobbyist and many Lincoln Road property owners, who are expected to be significant in this November’s commission election.

But one commissioner, Ed Tobin, said that when it came to both the financial agreements offered by each team and their amenability to negotiate, there was no comparison.

“I thought that one team’s [Portman-CMC] was clearly superior,” Tobin told SunPost, echoing the sentiment he passionately expressed at last week’s critical meeting.

Tobin’s analysis is correct in that, on paper, Portman-CMC’s deal cost taxpayers less, protected the public investment more safely, had lower fees, required no temporary structures and would be completed more than a year ahead of the proposal presented by South Beach ACE.

“More importantly, though,” Tobin continued. “My take on the tapes of the negotiations with the teams shows it is much, much, much easier to negotiate with the Portman-CMC team. They are more agreeable and less combative.”

Tobin said he has witnessed staff emerging from meetings with the South Beach ACE team looking like they’d stepped off a bus at the wrong place and been immediately run over.”

Many commission members did not even know negotiations with the two teams were being recorded – and Tobin indicated that the public would be able to confirm his perceptions by reviewing the recordings. SunPost was not able to review the recordings by press time.

Tobin also said he worried that with a successful referendum result in November, it’s possible that the super-majority commission vote (requiring six of seven votes) to approve the final contract might not be required.

“If the public approves, it might just take a simple majority – I’m not sure,” Tobin said.

SunPost could not confirm by press time if Tobin’s concern is valid.

“Unfortunately I think that what happened was that by the time the commission voted, people were already committed,” Tobin said. “I wish there was a rule that we had to wait until the last minute to discuss and have an opportunity to change each other’s minds.”

The second dissenting vote came from Commissioner Jonah Wolfson, a fierce critic of the entire process and public investment in the redevelopment plan. “As I have said before, some people are going to make a lot of money at the expense of the taxpayers’ quality of life,” he told SunPost after the meeting.

However, that was the least of Wolfson’s criticism.

“The vote basically encapsulated all of the corruption that has gone on during this whole process,” Wolfson said. “It’s a further example that the commission doesn’t do what’s in the public’s best interest, but instead does what’s in friends’ best interest.”

Wolfson opposes the redevelopment of the site without full approval of the public. However, when the responsibility fell on him to vote for one development team or the other, he did not abdicate his responsibility.

“If one had to choose between the two, any casual observer would vote for Portman-CMC, if one was forced to choose,” Wolfson said. “Any casual observer that is who hasn’t been bought.”

Wolfson referenced corruption and its potential throughout the entire process – from an arrest and shakeup of the city administration while the convention center issue fell under that office’s influence; to confusion or obfuscation on the need for a referendum related to the project; to his own accusation that a member of the South Beach ACE team had an inappropriate conversation with Wolfson outside the confines of lobbying laws.

Both dissenters referenced the other overt political connection – that of a lobbyist and influential local attorney, former commissioner and ally of Mayor Matti Bower working on behalf of South Beach ACE. That revelation prompted many to worry that the selection process had been heavily politicized.

Still, the public has the chance to express its opinion on the redevelopment plan on the November ballot. Political Action Committees have already been formed to fight the development plan or at least force a full public vote on all aspects of it. Both Tobin and Wolfson pointed out that considerable money is being raised to oppose the City’s efforts on the ballot.

About Michael W Sasser

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