The meeting was the first of several where the two teams of developers vying for the project will listen to the concerns and ideas from residents.
After these community meetings the developers, Portman CMC and the Tishman-lead South Beach ACE, will render master plans that the Commission will pick from in June.
“We hope to learn how we can be directed to create the right kind of environment suited for this location,” said Jack Portman of Portman CMC.
His counterpart Dan Tishman told the residents that he was a developer first, but was a “trained listener.”
When the residents finally had their chance they made it clear that developers would get resistance from city activists if their concerns were not heard.
“Are you recreating Miami Beach in your image, or in the image that we want?” asked Roger Abramson, a member of the Miami Beach Convention Center.
Abramson is a very vocal supporter of the convention center’s redevelopment, but he has his reservations on the massive scope of the 52 acre project that could produce a plan that will not pass muster with the voter.
“You don’t want to go through all this effort and then find out that nothing is going to happen cause the residents didn’t want it,” he said.
Although the Commission could go ahead with this project without a referendum vote, the large scope of it involving public land makes it likely voters will get a crack at it on a ballot.
One sore spot that was painfully obvious in the meeting was the fate of the Jackie Gleason Theater. While it is not protected by a historic designation, it pulls strongly on the hearts of many. The theater was one of many city owned property, like City Hall, and the 17th street parking garage, that the city has given full discretion to the developers to do what they will. Such property can be torn down at the will of the developer as long as an equivalent is reinstated somewhere in the district.
Applause splattered in the room when it was suggested that preservationists would oppose the plan if the Jackie Gleason Theater was torn down.
“Jackie Gleason is a monument,” said Gaven Otto.
The 800-room on site hotel, which the city has said is a must, received some scorn from residents.
Steve Burke, former mayoral candidate, offered the idea of breaking the hotel up into two parts. He also echoed the fears of anyone who resides adjacent to the center and asked if he would hear jackhammers at three in the morning.
Local Activist Frank Del Vecchio summed up the developers had to worry about when it came to a referendum into three points: Traffic, Flooding, and Gambling.
Connectivity, and the impact to residents was also a point echoed by others.
Del Vecchio asked the developers to make it a point to prohibit gambling in the private properties to be be built in the district.
The Gambling sector continues to haunt South Floridians opposed to it.
Another promise was solicited Abramson, who asked the developers to promise not to contribute soft money into the upcoming elections.
The line of the night belonged to Alejandro Arce: “This is one of the most atrocious buildings that was probably developed by a demented architect,” he said to laughs and claps.