|The Miami HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune
March 23, 2012--Amid the clanging and the cranes building art and science museums, downtown Miami is heating up this weekend to host more than two dozen events -- from the Ultra Music Festival at Bayfront Park to Disney on Ice at the AmericanAirlines Arena to the Odysseo/Cavalia show at Bicentennial Park and several performances and productions at the chic Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and the kitschy empty lot turned into Grand Central Park.
Tens of thousands of South Florida residents and visitors will descend on downtown Miami from Friday through Sunday, bringing vibrancy and excitement to a once-sleepy downtown that's becoming an international destination for arts and culture as well as a source of down-home fun for the locals. Many of them now live in condos and apartments downtown, thanks to urban pioneers like developer Jorge Perez and visionary leadership from former elected officials like Manny Diaz, Miami's mayor until 2009.
Aside from the expected traffic hassles, the challenge now for our elected leaders and civic activists is to turn all of this cultural and entertainment energy into a solid plan for a convention center in downtown Miami. Imagine the jobs that would be generated by large conventions.
Greater Miami can stand to have more than one convention venue. Miami Beach has been studying building a new convention center on South Beach -- for years. Although it has had a few facelifts, it's clear the Beach facility, surrounded by homes and condos, has its limitations.
Downtown Miami, by contrast, has room for a large facility, and the city's Downtown Development Authority (DDA) has been pushing for a conference facility that would complement the Beach convention center. It's key to downtown's continuing push to grow in a way that keeps more people walking, mass transit running and fewer cars on our already-congested roads.
But in these trying economic times, many elected officials might be tempted to throw up their hands and say, "Sorry, no money."
That's a dead end -- for growth you need investment. That's where creativity comes in. Private-public partnerships are key to getting a convention facility.
The DDA is exploring possible sites in and near downtown, and the Genting Group that bought The Miami Herald property also has considered conference facilities as part of its development, with or without a casino.
It's time to not only explore possibilities but to act on them.
Once the cranes leave and the clanging ends and Museum Park becomes a reality, downtown Miami will be a natural destination for groups to convene, but where? Downtown hotels have ballrooms but not the type of space necessary for a convention.
Meanwhile, Florida cities like Tampa are hosting the Republican National Convention this summer because they have the room and the amenities, and tens of millions of conventioneers descend annually on Orlando's International Drive, with two large facilities.
Greater Miami has counted on its reputation for sunshine and surf to attract visitors, but now the arts and culture bring a whole new dimension that Miami and Miami-Dade County officials need to focus on. Beyond the vision are the nuts and bolts of shaping downtown's amenities in a way that's not haphazard. The Arsht Center, for example, was built without a parking garage. That cannot happen again.
Let's get moving.
(c)2012 The Miami Herald
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