Miami Beach moves ahead with convention center renovation

Renderings of the Miami Beach Convention Center
Renderings of the Miami Beach Convention Center

After years of false starts, Miami Beach commissioners have approved a massive overhaul of the city’s aging convention center with the goal of boosting occupancy rates from a current average of 50 percent to 70 percent in five years.

In a unanimous vote late Wednesday commissioners approved a guaranteed maximum price of $514.4 million for sole bidder Clark Construction to complete the project by June 30, 2018. Work will start immediately following this year’s Art Basel extravaganza in December, with most construction to be finished by Art Basel 2017.

City officials said they will buy some construction materials on their own, saving about $6 million in sales taxes, and bringing the maximum guaranteed price down to $509 million. Owner’s contingency fees, insurance premiums and additional staff costs are expected to bring the total cost of the project to $615.7 million, making the renovation of the 58-year-old building the most expensive project ever undertaken in Miami Beach. The project will be funded by a 1 percent increase in the city’s resort tax, which voters overwhelmingly approved in 2012, three bonds and a parking enterprise fund.

Clark Construction will serve as a general contractor and nearly 200 sub-contractors are expected to be involved in the massive project. Maria Hernandez, project director of the convention center district told The Real Deal that the construction timetable involves starting on the east and north side of the building and then moving to the west side, where most heavy construction will take place. At that point, more than 1,000 workers will be working on the project on a daily basis, costing more than $1 million a day.

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Hernandez said the centerpiece of the renovated convention center will be a 60,000-square-foot ballroom. The existing structure does not have a ballroom, which she said limits its tenants to trade and consumer shows.

“In the future we really want to attract the conventions, and they need to have that ballroom and those meeting rooms, and flexible arrangements which is what we are going to give them in the future,” Hernandez told TRD. The renovated building will have about 5,000 square feet of additional exhibition space and 874 parking spaces.

Denver-based Fentress Architects, in collaboration with local firm Arquitectonica, have designed an undulating white façade for the 1.4 million-square-foot building. The overhaul of the 52-acre convention center district includes extensive telecommunications upgrades, as well as the construction of a $10 million park on a 6-acre site just across the street. Extensive drainage improvements to the area will also include a storm water connection culvert designed to mitigate sea-level rise issues.

Still unresolved is whether a convention center hotel will be built on an adjacent parcel at the corner of 17th Street and Convention Center Drive. Convention and tourism officials say the convention center needs an anchor hotel. Portman Holdings has submitted plans to build a 300-foot tall, 800-room hotel on land at the site that the city intends to lease. However, at least 60 percent of Miami Beach voters must approve the lease. Plans for the hotel were put on hold in September after a poll commissioned by the developer found only 56.5 percent of likely voters supported the hotel plan. Based on those findings, commissioners agreed to delay putting the hotel measure before voters until the March 2016 primary vote.