May 19, 2011--As calls grow louder for a plan to finance a
proposed overhaul and expansion of the Miami Beach Convention Center,
City Manager Jorge Gonzalez continues to quietly meet with developers
and hoteliers about private investment into the estimated $650 million
Gonzalez met Tuesday with representatives of the Hilton hotel
chain to discuss the project -- which would double the size of the
convention center to 2 million square feet -- and a proposed 1,000-room
convention center hotel on the site of the Fillmore Miami Beach at the
Jackie Gleason Theater.
"All the big chains are calling and all the big developers are
calling," Gonzalez said prior to the meeting, adding that he has also
met with Marriott representatives.
Neither company responded to requests for comment.
Gonzalez also said he met Monday with construction
representatives and the prior week with design firms interested in
applying for a city contract to come up with the "iconic" design
commissioners have said they desire. Gonzalez said Miami-based
Arquitectonica, which was paid $573,000 to research and analyze the
convention market and create a conceptual design for the center within
zoning limits -- a design commissioners found unacceptable -- is among
the interested firms.
"There is clear interest in this project and in this hotel,"
As Gonzalez meets with private business in hopes of defraying
costs of the project with outside investment, members of the city's
Convention Center Advisory Board have called for quick action on a plan
for public financing
On May 12, board members convened a special meeting to discuss
public funding options in the wake of the failing of two state bills
that would have created millions toward financing the convention center
overhaul by allowing Miami-Dade County commissioners to increase bed
Citing numbers from the Greater Miami Convention &
Visitors Bureau that said some $300 million in convention-related
business had been lost or is in jeopardy due to inadequate and outdated
space and facilities, board members suggested a number of different
funding options, including:
-- Increasing Miami Beach's bed tax by one percentage point
through a November voter referendum
-- Extending the city's Redevelopment Agency City Center
district an additional 30 years
-- Returning to Tallahassee to push for another state bill to
allow to allow for the raising of a county bed tax
All these options could be mixed and matched with private
investment and would supplement the roughly $55 million already in hand
and available to fund renovations. Gonzalez has said the city has
reached out to county officials to find possible funding, but he said
pursuing discussions with the county has been complicated by the recall
of Carlos Alvarez, which has left Miami-Dade without a mayor.
Board members also urged city hall to have a funding plan to
present to them by August.
"It's very, very important," said board member Jason Loeb.
"Everybody is waiting to get this done."
Loeb, who is also chairman of the Miami Beach Chamber of
Commerce, said he plans to meet soon with Tim Nardi, the chairman of
the Greater Miami & the Beaches Hotel Association -- which opposes
the construction of a headquarters hotel -- in order to create a plan
to support funding for the project.
Both lobbying groups recently supported proposals to allow for
an increase of a county bed tax to finance the center renovation.
Stuart Blumberg, chairman of the Convention Center Advisory
Board, said Gonzalez's meetings with private business remain important.
But he said public funding must also be a priority because developers
and hoteliers will want to know how much the city is contributing to
the project before committing their own resources.
"It's great that all these hotel companies are interested," he
said. "We knew over a year ago there was great interest from the hotel
community about a partnership. The questions we raised at our special
board meeting the other day still puts on the table: What will be the
contribution of public funding other than the $55 million?"
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