Politics: Insect Politics


Requiem for a Convention Center

By Jeffrey Bradley

Recently, we stumbled upon giant arthropods rampaging inside the Miami Beach Convention Center. We kid you not. Dragged within (it was dark as the inside of your pocket) by buggy kids, we stood transfixed as not one but two giant ants loomed out of the gloaming and reeled hideously as screeching sirens, shivery tinkly bells, whirling glissandos and booming bass lines thundered in apocalyptic frenzy. Channeling scenes from The Fly (“Help meee! Help meee!”), we prepared to bolt. Luckily, a companion brought us back from the brink. “It’s only Insects,” she whispered. Indeed; Insects by Sarruga–a Spanish performance group maneuvers gizmos, wires and levers mounted on wheeled conveyances below the metal-framed insects to bring them to life–were on full display down in Hall B. Recovering our shock, we noticed these scary monsters, picking their way instinct with menace round that cavernous space, were trailed by hordes of grownups and children that would, in all probability, run screaming for the exits if a real palmetto bug so much as had raised an antenna.

The blackness, pierced by flickering strobes that backlit the marauding bugs–they had a penchant for fighting–and the mobs dancing deliriously around them, somehow by a fluke of acoustics, swelled the cacophony supernaturally. The weird blend of audience and actor conjured up a hellish vista of insect societies cavorting with human societies in a world gone mad, where insectoid mayhem was punctuated by honking horns of destruction… <phew!> Proving, again, that some were meant to participate and others only observe.

But wait. In the climactic finale, a stories-high praying mantis battled and slew a baleful spider before dividing and conquering the malevolent ants. We understood this as a riff on the Battle of Hastings, wherein Harold Godwinson, claimant to the English throne, first rushed north to defeat King Harald Hardraada, in the last Viking invasion, at Stamford Bridge, before hurrying south to meet his fate atop Senlac Hill at the hands of William the Conqueror. On such small pivots do the destinies of men and insects turn.

Later, in the safety of day, we realized we couldn’t have been more astounded had the Mayor and all her Commission come scrambling from the Convention pursued by a giant arachnid. Good Ford! What a sight that would’ve been.

Which segues us to the plan for a billion-dollar Convention Center. That’s right; renovations are estimated to cost around $500 million, but… when are they ever correct? By doubling that we safely cover all bases: hope for the best, but expect the worst.

Not that we’re averse to parting with a buck. In fact, we love shopping, or at least spending money. We get qualms, tho’, when it comes to that kind of loot because, until we know what we’re getting, it’s better to call it gambling.

In a nutshell, here’s their plan (which sounds oddly like mixing a drink): Extend building a quarter million square feet westward, swallowing Convention Center Drive and half the surface parking lot. Turn on axis until entrance fronts south along 17th Street. Garnish with furnishings, “contingencies” and a huge new parking garage… and we’ll take ours shaken, not stirred.

Improvements are sorely needed, Ford knows. While we enjoyed our Hall B bug-hug, we couldn’t help notice how, well, ’60s the place seems; cramped, dingy, with a pervasive whiff of mold accentuating a slow decay. Erected in 1957 as the Steven Muss–of bed-tax infamy–Convention Center (with additions affixed in the 1980s), our out-of-date venue scrimps along with no party-size ballroom and outmoded outdoor loading, among other lacks.

But this massive outlay (costlier’n a backfire bomber, you betcha) would enable what those in the know from Arquitectonica–which we also mistook for a libation–the architectural combine consulting on the deal say we must have to compete lest, like the planet formerly known as Pluto, we end up consigned to a lesser status.

But when is enough enough? Or, more to the point, too much? Could the price itself put the project beyond reach? Or push all hope of profit so far into the future as to a vanishing point? Won’t the County balk at the outlay when it already staggers under the bank-busting for-rich-folks-only Marlins Stadium and that insane Port Tunnel-to-nowhere that’s going to dump thousands more vehicles onto the streets? Even Paul the Octopus couldn’t prognosticate this.

Still, something’s needed. Conventions fill our coffers, and the hotels, restaurants and other service industries that comprise our economy. So, our Convention Center would look more like this: Smaller, by keeping Convention Center Drive intact, with connectivity to Washington Avenue provided by extending 18th as a through-street. If it must extend west then build it so that a streetcar running up Convention Center Drive stops within the building itself! Even with addendums like a lavish rooftop skybar, indoor loading/unloading, a first-class arboretum, cost-effective energy sources and that all-important transit node, it’s far leaner, cutting the price.

We’ve witnessed professional annual meetings of 10,000 attendees–not on the Beach, Gertrude–and there are thousands such groups. We could easily handle two a month, but not with the current configuration. So, we instead rent it out piecemeal–like last week’s Hall B bugaloo with nothing going on anywhere else in the complex… <Sigh>  Wasteful, wasteful!

And talk about your transportation snafus! Right now there is absolutely no public transit linking the hugely powerful economic engines of Miami and Miami Beach! Worse, the short-sighted architectural firm deemed public transit “non-appropriate” for their new Jetsonsesque center. And with a lack of accommodations to handle the bigger conventions–only some 14,000 hotel rooms city-wide–during a super-convention, in the middle of season, most folks would stay across the Bay.

Which means if you’re in some swanky downtown hotel that you’ll have to wait for a bus or hail a cab to get to the Beach. Or, excuse us, rent a car, fight the gridlock, then deal with the hassles of parking. If you find that kind of stupidity criminal, we agree.

Having uncovered the two biggest flaws in the center’s plans–the sheer size of it, and that it ignores transit–we find that both can be solved by building BayLink!

Here’s why: Less parking; in fact, almost none, given what’s already there. Isn’t that a hulking parking pedestal across from City Hall? And another one, way-underutilized, next door? Now they want a 5-story behemoth north of it, too? Are they striving for that forbidding Soviet-era institutional look? Obviously, no one’s polled the neighbors yet to find their views on being surrounded by this parking garage gulag.

Look, if you’re borrowing $100 million anyway, why not make it $150? That would not only cover the intermodal–using transportation money–but mean less is needed for the convention center, minus the parking. And, it leaves more angles for cobbling funds. At least, that’s what the smart money would do.

There’s still room for maneuver. “I want to make sure we don’t do this and get too far down the road without thinking” said City Manager Jorge Gonzalez.

Where’s Seth Brundlefly when we need him?


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