|The Miami HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune
Jan. 16, 2013--Key to maintaining a vibrant tourism industry in Miami-Dade County is a long-delayed overhaul of the Miami Beach Convention Center with a new hotel and a mixed-use complex of shops and offices surrounding it.
Just a few weeks ago, the Miami Beach City Commission gave the green light to two teams of developers to take their $1 billion vision to city residents, whose vote the Beach will need to make this public-private partnership a reality on the mixed-use project.
The go-ahead followed years of stalling and sputtering, while sports venues like the Miami Marlins gobbled up a big portion of the county's hotel bed tax, which state law limits for tourism-related marketing and building convention centers, sports facilities or other public entertainment activities.
So the commission's vote in December -- after an evaluation committee, a consultant hired by the city and the acting city manager all carefully studied the handful of potential bidders and recommended two -- was refreshing. For once, commissioners focused on the qualifications of the teams and weren't swayed by political palsy-walsy.
Now, though, Commissioner Deede Weithorn seems to be having second thoughts. She wants the issue taken up again at the commission meeting on Wednesday. Seriously?
Her request has understandably upset tourism folks, who are counting on a decision by this fall, and county officials who are being courted by various groups that would love to jump ahead of the line and grab some of that bed tax money for other needed projects.
It would be unconscionable for the commission to put another obstacle in what has been a fair and transparent process. Who would want to do business in Miami Beach in the future if they see the rules are changed mid-stream at a commissioner's whim?
And if a third developer is allowed to compete, what's to stop a fourth or a fifth from crying foul and demanding inclusion, too? This, after all the work that was done last year to focus on the most qualified bidders.
The two teams selected to come up with their master plan for this megadevelopment are extremely qualified. Portman-CMC developed the Peachtree Center in Atlanta, and its team includes Cirque du Soleil, condo developer Ugo Colombo, and the Bal Harbour Shops; the other team is South Beach ACE, which built Disney World's Swan and Dolphin hotels.
Ms. Weithorn says she is not looking to change the rules or stall the process, but simply to ensure that the community has a better understanding of the project and to "mitigate misinformation," such as some residents' concerns that City Hall would be demolished to be part of the mixed-use development. That scenario is not certain, as the developers first must hold a series of community meetings to get public input before finalizing their master plans for the project.
In her memo to the city manager, Ms. Weithorn notes that the project "has been encumbered and nearly completely stalled due to investigations and allegations of bid-rigging, inside deals, and sunshine violations" -- a reference to a former city purchasing director accused of rigging bids. That investigation is ongoing, but the State Attorney's Office has told city officials that there is no evidence of wrongdoing by the teams vying to build the project.
Ms. Weithorn maintains "ultimately, no change has been proposed" in her request. She's simply seeking clarity. Good. There has been due diligence. Time to move forward -- now.
(c)2013 The Miami Herald
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