News: Jack Portman Weighs in on Beach Convention Center Plans

Jack Portman, the Vice Chairman of Portman Holdings and John Portman & Associates, is at the helm of Portman CMC, a finalist in the redevelopment of the Convention Center District in Miami Beach. His group has been tasked with bringing the elderly Miami Beach Convention Center into the modern age while at the same time making the surrounding land more attractive to foot traffic thus making the 52 acre project an economic engine for the city. He recently spoke with the SunPost about the plans his group has in store.

In the February meeting you mentioned the cost would be around 300-500 million depending how far the city wants to go: Is there a scenario where the remodeling of the convention center can just equal a superficial facelift? What’s involved in the extra 200 million?

I don’t think that’s the problem. The Convention Center needs to be upgraded to be competitive in it’s Market niche. The cost is like a house you want to remodel. You have a certain amount of income. You might want to do ten things but you can only do eight thoroughly. You have to match the cost with how much money you spend. That is the evaluation that is taking place. I don’t have an answer for that. It’s our objective to match revenue with cost.

How are you working to make the MBCC competitive vs other centers?

You can only talk about it’s market niche. 500,000sft conferences and trade shows. It’s not a question of size, How do you upgrade the functions. So that it has all the technical accoutrements necessary to fill the needs of groups.

What are these upgrades within it’s own niche?

It’s an exhaustive list, from special lighting to sound systems, to wall covers. It’s a variety of things that cover ever aspect of remodeling.

Influenced any by what you saw from the other group?

 Both try to examine what the other is doing, and try to understand the rationale of the proposal. Which we have done, and I’m sure they have done. They have certain qualities that are very appealing. Some cater to public opinion more than solve the problem of creating the right kind of destination for a convention center. We are more practical. We are trying to give Miami Beach the best environment, the best set of circumstances for the convention center.

Have you experienced any resistance because of the Jackie Gleason Theater?

Of course, it’s not the first time we’ve been to this movie. This is the way we analyze it: is it functional ? What does it contribute to the area? Is the facility historic? Is the legacy of Jackie Gleason historically significant?

Having a theater in the development is important. We should and have a theater in the development.

Is it historically significant? The answer to that is an emphatic no. The building is not in the least bit worthy of any architectural preservation. Modified a 100 times, and in the beginning it was an auditorium.

Is the Jackie Gleason legacy worthy? Yes, and we are going to preserve it in a variety of ways.

Note: since the interview the public backlash has changed the way Portman CMC will view this. Portman says they are reevaluating what to do with the theater.

“It’s a very passionate subject for a lot of people. From our perspective, we didn’t think it was worthy of the passion that has been shown. Given that it is being shown, we need to reevaluate how we look at it. From an urban planning point of view , from a convention center destination point of view. What we are proposing is the right solution. But if politically proposing what we are proposing doesn’t allow us to further participate, then we have to take a hard look at it.

How much is your group influenced by the thought of a referendum?

The referendum is crucial.

We have been meeting with all the neighborhood groups, any constituency group with a voice. We have been listening very carefully what their thoughts and concerns are. We tried to incorporate all of them while at the same time solving the main problem which is a world class convention center destination.

At the end of the day you can’t do 100 percent of both. So there are compromises on both sides. We know you have to have public support. Miami Beach has a very active public group, a lot of interests , a lot of communication. I think that is very healthy. We want to give them the necessary information to really understand what we are trying to do. So they can see the benefits as citizens and the Miami Beach economy in general. Our focus has always been, in every development we’ve done, wherever it might be, the human environment. How do you create a human environment? That is agreeable, comfortable, peaceful and serene.

The objective is to create a place people love to be.

About Frank Maradiaga

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