Miami Convention Center Project Runs Up Against Mayor, New Referendum Rules
The ambitious renovation project for Miami’s convention center has come up against significant obstacles: second thoughts, an election and a lawsuit.
The development plan, selected after a worldwide competition, came from South Beach ACE, a team headed by uber-developer Dan Tishman in a partnership with architect Rem Kooolhas. The $1.2 billion plan (see video below) involves a pretty thrilling reworking of the current truck-depot ho-hummery that characterizes the convention center today. Of particular interest is the inclusion of a 800-room hotel on top of the convention center structure, a sweeping, deco-inspired edifice that Tishman’s team claims is essential to the success of the project:
Reconsidering The Hotel And Public Land For Retail
Following the November election of Miami mayor Philip Levine, it was the hotel and retail aspects of the project that came under added scrutiny. In a memo from Levine’s office, the mayor called upon the City Commission to scrap the plan and current negotiations with South Beach ACE, and start a new bid process for a much smaller renovation plan that excludes a hotel and only uses the cash Miami has on hand.
Included in the winning plan was 90,000 square feet of retail on public land under a 99-year lease currently under negotiation with the developer. As Christina Viega reports in the Miami Herald, that requirement is likely on its way out:
The size, scale and price of the Beach’s proposed convention center renovation was a hotly contested campaign issue during the city’s November elections. A new slate of candidates — one that supported a smaller and cheaper renovation plan — was swept into office.
At the same time, Commissioner Jonah Wolfson won a legal battle he waged to make a convention center project more difficult to pass in a required voter referendum.
The original plan, as proposed by the city, called for Miami Beach to lease out public land to a private developer as a way to help pay for the project. On the land, the private developer would build a hotel, shops and restaurants.
When the city picked ACE for the project, the city’s rules called for a voter referendum to approve the lease of city land to any private entity. Only a simple majority was required for the lease agreements to pass.
But Wolfson launched a petition campaign, financed largely by the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach, to change the city’s rules regarding a referendum. He won, and now at least 60 percent of voters would have to approve the lease of any convention center land. Wolfson also took his own city to court to remove a ballot question approving the current plan from the November ballot. His lawyer argued successfully that voters didn’t have enough information to vote on the issue.
Under Levine’s proposal, however, it’s likely that no referendum would be needed. That’s because Levine proposes to nix a convention center hotel and “any requirement for retail or other private commercial uses.”
The Politics Of Competition?
While a complete picture of the conflict over the plan is far from clear, the business interest of the Fontainebleau hotel in the proposed creation of 800 new rooms “down the street” so to speak is impossible to overlook. Any claims of pure democracy in the rewriting of the referendum rules should probably be taken with a grain of salt (and a delicious Cuban medianoche sandwich).
Parties interested in the outcome of the new struggle over the project should keep an eye on the City of Miami City Commission meetings page, along with agendas and streaming video.