News: Millions at stake says MBCCAB

Advisory Board Warns Miami Beach It Will Lose $390 Million if Miami Beach Convention Center Plan is Scrapped.

The Miami Beach Convention Center Advisory Board announced this week that Miami Beach stands to lose $390 million dollars if the current renovation plans for the center are scrapped.

Chairman of the Board Stu Blumberg said the city has on the books tentative agreements that represent real tangible money, and warned it would go up in smoke if the city moved away from developing the 52-acre lot.

The meeting was called a day before the city’s October Commission Meeting, and in response to the commission asking the administration to look into ‘alternatives’ after the project hit a detour in the courts.

“We are a little bit frustrated about the lack of information regarding this center,” said Blumberg, “and more so the misinformation.”

With the ballot question struck from this November’s election because it did not include a finished agreement between the city and the developer, the project gets delayed and opponents get more time to poke at the aging center. None of the most vocal opponents to the project were present at the meeting.

“Our biggest critics are not in the room. That speaks volumes,” said Blumberg.

Commissioner Jonah Wolfson, backed with money from the Fontainebleau -themselves a failed bidder of the MBCC project-, has lead a campaign against the project. He even successfully put a question on this year’s ballot that would raise a potentially raise the passing of a referendum on public land from a simple majority to 60% of the vote.

If it passes it adds another difficult hurdle for the project. This lead the advisory board to rhetorically ask the commission, as none were present when the question was asked, does the city want to be in the convention center business?

“It’s not complicated, because if the city doesn’t wish to be in the business…then don’t talk about a renovation and don’t talk about a hotel,” said the chairman.

The alternative to conventions would be trade shows, like the boat show and events of that ilk. According to the advisory board’s figures, those type of shows help keep the convention center at a 72% occupancy. Commonly it is thought that trade shows attract a local or nearby crowd that drive into the city, then drive out after the show. A convention crowd is commonly thought as being from out of town, rent rooms and use public transportation or taxis. This anecdotal logic was echoed by the board- which is made up of veterans in the hospitality industry.

Hence the board scoffed at the notion that a reason to scrap this project is because the city did not do an extensive traffic study. Through the conventions-vs-trade-show logic, convention attendees would not bring in new traffic. Plus a consideration of traffic is already woven into the center’s bookings the board says.

The lack of a traffic study is often cited by the crop of new candidates seeking a commission seat.

Mayoral Candidate Philip Levine regularly gives stump speeches that say the process “has been tainted with corruption,” in addition to the lack of traffic study claim.

While this special meeting was meant to resonate with current commission for a discussion item in their October meeting- the message goes out to a future commission, the make-up of which could change after November.

Ultimately, the deal must be approved by a super-majority vote of 6-1; Wolfson has already said he is a no vote, if only one more joins him- the renovations for the MBCC are dead.

All data from city-financed studies state that a renovated center must include a 800-room hotel, a ballroom, and updated meeting space to even be considered competitive. As for a watered down renovation, Blumberg says: “forget about it.”

Hotels in the area, says the advisory board, do not provide the required room blocks that convention planners need.

Studies and false-starts at renovating go back to 2001. This current bid has looked like the best shot at getting it done.

And it is on the promise that Miami Beach is moving on it’s planned renovations that groups have tentatively booked.

Blumberg broke it down: “Currently on the books, 260 delegates for the years 15, 16, 17, 18. Economic impact: $337 million dollars at risk, MBCC rental $9 million, sales tax and resort tax for Miami Beach: $44 million dollars. What’s at risk here? $390 million dollars of potential business to this community. And no one is talking about it.”

These numbers, as of print time, were not independently verified by the SunPost.

City Manager Jimmy Morales has advised the city commission to continue forward with the current project. He has also instructed city attorneys to draft a first draft of the lease agreement.

About Frank Maradiaga

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