And The Companies Miami Beach Picked for Convention Center Makeover Are...

By Eleazar David Melendez

Rendering of the proposed hotel at the Miami Beach Convention Center
John Portman & Associates

Miami Beach leaders picked a company to manage the half-billion dollar makeover of the city's convention center and preliminarily awarded the right to build a giant hotel next door to another firm.

After a brief presentation and no public comment, city commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to hire Clark Construction Group LLC to manage the final planning for the convention center with a 60,000-square-foot ballroom, among the largest in the nation.

The commissioners also voted to open negotiations with Atlanta's Portman Holdings LLC, which wants to build a $405 million, 800-room hotel on public land next door.

Rendering of the proposed hotel at the Miami Beach Convention Center. John Portman & Associates.

City leaders didn't have much choice in their decision—both Clark Construction and Portman were sole bidders for the respective assignments.

Commissioners have been moving quickly to achieve the much-touted renovation since January 2014, when a newly elected slate threw out a politically divisive plan for a $1 billion revamp. Their goal since then has been to spend on the overhaul and lease nearby space for the hotel.

Rendering of the proposed hotel at the Miami Beach Convention Center
- John Portman & Associates

The convention center portion is slightly over budget since the $18 million given to Clark Construction is $3.7 million more than the city set aside for this phase of the project. Groundbreaking has been pushed back three months to December.

City leaders on Wednesday still sounded hopeful that Clark Construction will come back with a guaranteed maximum price for the project of no more than $500.3 million by October. By July, Clark Construction and Fentress Architects, previously hired to design the project, will have a rough idea of whether that goal is manageable.

"You'll get a rousing applause when you bring it on budget and on time," Mayor Philip Levine half-jokingly told Jeff Sachs, the consultant advising the city on the project.

"We're going to know in July where we stand, and the heavy work is going to happen in July and August," Sachs said. When asked why the construction management and hotel construction requests for proposals attracted only one qualified bidder each, he said, "We're a victim of a robust economy."

The hotel faces several significant steps before groundbreaking. Chief among them will be a city referendum in November to approve the land lease. Details of the lease, which is expected to generate $6 million for the city over the next 30 years, will be ironed out by June and require a 60 percent affirmative vote.

Jack Portman, vice chairman of Portman Holdings, explained the planned hotel on 17th Street and Convention Center Drive would seek to connect two city parks on either side with a lush landscaping and a pedestrian arcade that would line the southern and western sides of the hotel.

"The city of Miami Beach is entrusting us to create an iconic convention headquarter hotel, and we are prepared to deliver," said Jack Portman, vice chairman of Portman Holdings and John Portman & Associates.

Part of what Portman highlighted is his company's private funding. Other hotel bidders were disqualified for seeking public subsidies.

Portman's hotel is expected to open in December 2018.

On Monday, developer MDM Group said its plan for a much larger hotel and smaller exposition center in Miami is scheduled to open in the fall of 2018.

Together, Portman and MDM would add 2,600 rooms to Miami-Dade County's tourist core. The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau reports Miami and Miami Beach have a combined 19,514 hotel rooms.

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