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Reno of Miami Beach Convention Center Stalls Out Again

17 Feb, 2015

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Outdated and Underutilized, Venue Has the Potential to Bring in New Revenue – But Nothing is Coming Together

Miami may get a renovated convention center someday. Just not any time soon.

In the latest chapter of a plotline worthy of a soap opera, the Miami Beach City Commission formally passed a resolution cancelling requests for proposals for design/build services on the Miami Beach Convention Center renovation and expansion project.

The decision came on the heels of three out of four approved contractors declining to pursue the $500 million project after originally expressing interest.

According to an article in the Miami Herald, the city has hoped expansion and renovation of the facility would act as an economic driver, bringing in conventions, sporting events and more, in order to help the area compete with the likes of Orlando and Las Vegas.

However, the project has evolved (or perhaps devolved) over the years, shaped by the preferences of a new mayor as well as new city commissioners. From originally being conceived as an overhaul of the convention center district, including adding retail, residential and a convention center hotel, along with revamped convention space, the project was scaled back to simply a makeover of the convention center with a park across the street. (Further measures, including an additional hotel, would be considered at a later date, and would have to be voted on by residents).

Not that the simplified plan made things any easier. According to the article in the Herald:

…it was back to square one for what is seen as the largest land development deal in Miami Beach’s history.

In April 2014, the city chose Denver-based Fentress Architects to design partial plans for what is called a design-criteria package. Last year, the city paid $11 million to Fentress to design 30 percent of the project; the firm worked with Miami-based Arquitectonica and the Dutch landscape design firm of West 8, which designed the critically acclaimed SoundScape Park in front of the New World Symphony’s hall.

Their work, called a design-criteria package, was then delivered to the four firms that bid on the job. The four firms were: Clark Construction Group, Hunt Construction Group, Hensel Phelps Construction and Tutor Perini Building Corp. A six-person committee made up of local business people and city staffers judged the firms on seven categories, including organization plan, experience and qualifications and financial capability. Clark scored an average of 95. Hunt scored 83, Hensel Phelps, 76, and Tutor Perini, 69.

After the rankings, all the firms dropped out, except for Clark.

Alarmed, city officials held a meeting with Clark and asked for its honest appraisal of the work to be done at the $509.5 million budget.

Notes from that meeting stated,

On February 5, 2015, we met with several members of Clark's team, and it became clear that the project, as designed, could not be delivered within the City's budget unless the City hastily agreed to a number of "value engineering" or re-design proposals. And most importantly, because of the lack of competition, it is the collective judgment of the internal and external professionals on the City's team, that ensuring the City achieves the best price is not possible under the current design-build approach.

After the meeting, the commissioners passed their resolution, withdrawing the RFP.

The project, once again stalled out, has become something of a boondoggle in the area. Another Herald article referred to it as the “Billion Dollar Baby,” comparing the ‘outdated and underused’ convention center to “a fortress in an asphalt desert,” and “a dead zone at the heart of one of America's most vibrant urban places.”

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