Promise Kept


Over the course of the 2013 Miami Beach election cycle, it was one of the issues that energized the public, and one of the platform items upon which new Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine campaigned – the process by which the previous city commission had advanced the plan to renovate and improve the Miami Beach Convention Center.

Laden with controversy based on corruption scandals in city hall, serious questions over the size and scope of the project and the process by which an eventual master developer was determined, activists in the city engendered broad public support against the process that eventually named South Beach ACE the development team to redevelop the convention center site and adjacent properties into a massive mixed use development. Maverick Commissioner Jonah Wolfson successfully led a legal challenge to slow the project’s rapid advancement, and several candidates in the election included re examining the entire project and process if elected. Among those was Levine, the relative political newcomer, highly successful businessman and plain spoken populist.

Last week, Levine delivered on his campaign promise by issuing a memo to the city commission recommending a fresh start to the convention center project.

“Nothing in there is a surprise,” Levine told SunPost this week. “It’s everything I said during the campaign.”

Indeed, the memo reads like a pre election analysis by Levine and includes the perspectives and thoughts he championed throughout the election.

“During my campaign for Mayor, there was a lot of discussion and debate about the scale, design, and overall program of the mixed-use MBCC Project, yet there was never any dispute about the need to renovate the Convention Center itself, as well as the Center’s essential and significant role in the City’s – and Miami-Dade County’s -

economy,” Levine wrote in the January 15 memo. “While realizing the imperative to renovate the Convention Center, I have always had significant concerns with tying that process into the larger private development of City owned land, as contemplated in the City’s RFQ for the development of the 52 acre Miami Beach Convention Center District.

Additionally, recent legal events have created the possibility of a further delay to the

renovation of the Convention Center (which has already been in the planning stages

since 2007). For these reasons, I believe the City Commission needs to reconsider the

current program in a way which prioritizes and expedites the renovation of the MBCC in

keeping with the desires of the community.”

Levine then went on to describe the sometimes complex and often infuriating, to all parties, process. The key was a court decision.

“On September 20, 2013, the Third District Court of Appeal (3rd DCA) in the case of Let Miami Beach Decide vs. City of Miami Beach, removed the lease approval question from the November 5, 2013 ballot,” Levine continued in his memo. “The court held that in order to approve the proposed leases of City land to the Developer under the City Charter provision, voters must be advised of the material terms of the leases that they were being asked to approve. Because these terms had not yet been negotiated, the court concluded that, without this necessary information, the lease approval ballot question must be removed from the ballot.”

Levine then rightly asserted that as a result of the court decision as at least one key factor, an agreement between proposed developer South Beach ACE has never been reached. Nor is there a contract. Instead of progressing along the lines established by the previous city commission, Levine wants a fresh start.”

“Let’s start from scratch,” Levine told SunPost this week. “I want to see the convention center renovated and it’s needed. I want it to move fast. I want to start from scratch with a fresh Request For Proposals. We have a situation here for a state of the art facility with our own money. As far as a hotel component, there may be a couple of possible sites. But the market will decide. We do want to create a lot of green space and a ballroom.”

Levine’s retreat from outside capital outlay for the renovation plan was also spelled out in his memo: “I appreciate that the purpose of the mixed-use development in the RFQ was to generate private funds to subsidize the renovation of the Convention Center. Fortunately, the City currently has the ability to secure funding for the renovation and expansion of the public project. Funding sources for the Convention Center renovation and expansion include: the Miami-Dade County General Obligation Bond {$53.6 million), the additional 1% resort tax (estimated at $230.4 million with collections beginning in 2015) and future dedicated revenues from the existing RDA through 2022 estimated at $71.2 million). These sources total approximately $355.2 million and do not require an RDA extension by the County. Additionally, the Parking Enterprise Fund can support up to $145 Million in future Parking Revenue Bonds for public parking. Furthermore, through better design and value engineering, I believe we can deliver a new and improved Convention Center for less than the $500 million budget estimated thus far.”

While Levine advocates tossing out previous responses to the initial Request For Proposals, he told SunPost he welcomes the previous competitors to respond to the proposed RFP. He said that he has seen previous bidders comments in media, but hadn’t entered into any discussions with them.

His official recommendation is included in the commission memo advocating in support of his proposal to issue a fresh RFP, with a scaled back vision, a study of the possibility of a convention hotel with strictly private funds and incorporation of a storm water provision, another bone of contention with neighbors and city activists.

However, Levine has another idea he shared with SunPost this week that, to date, has not been a part of the major entire convention center discussion.

“One option is that we need a new city hall and maybe a new city hall can be included in the development,” Levine said. “We could then tear down the existing city hall and maybe a hotel can be built on that site.”

Consistent with his call on the private sector, the city hall proposal was not included in Levine’s commission memo.

While some might criticize the mayor’s position, around Miami Beach, there is a sense of achievement.

“He did what he said he was going to do,” said Miami Beach’s Ivan Groble, who said he preferred Levine in last year’s election. “In politics today, whatever a candidate’s position is, if they act on it, that’s an honest thing. In this case, I happen to have agreed. I don’t know a lot about the previous commission’s actions, but I know from what I read that when I saw all that was being proposed for that location, all I saw was a traffic nightmare and a lot of debt for the public.”

Well known civic activist Frank Del Vecchio also supports the mayor’s philosophy.

“Levine is right on the mark,” Vecchio said. “Unless the convention center is decoupled, and undertaken as a public project not directly tied to a private developer, the process of even getting to the required public referendum could take a year or more, since a lease has to be negotiated before lease approval is put on the referendum ballot, and the results of the referendum are unpredictable.  And if the public voted down the lease, we’d be back to square one and have to start over. Decoupling is the fail safe route which will guarantee an opening date the industry can plan for and book events for with the lead time those bookings require.”

Levine sees his proposal as just an extension of his campaign promises.

“I said we were going to do this and we will,” Levine said. “This is why people voted for me and I won without a runoff, and other members of the commission received the same support.”

About Michael W Sasser

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