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As D-Day Looms, Catching Up On The Convention Center Drama

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As the day that Miami Beach commissioners decide on a Convention Center proposal (July 17th) draws nearer, things are getting hot, messy, and really bitchy. Last month, architecture critic Beth Dunlop spoke up, saying the City should take more control over the whole planning process of the Convention Center, and not hand it all over to private developers. Whether because of Beth's article, or perhaps just coincidence, the City Manager thought he had a bright idea by requesting 'scaled down' versions of each convention center proposal from both South Beach ACE and their architect Rem Koolhaas and Portman-CMC and their architect Bjarke Ingels. Commissioners seemed to agree, but thought a widdle bit of housing would be nice, and that was that. They were now going for the 'low fat' convention center approach. So each side submitted a new plan. Along with those plans, South Beach ACE released a new rendering of its scaled down plan. Portman-CMC did not.

Meanwhile, as each side continued to squabble away, an Editor for World Property Channel chimed back, saying (and we paraphrase) "No, those dimwitted city pencil pushers have no vision, no sense of great architecture, of great urban design. They will make it ever so blasé. And Beth is like totally wrong." It was a feud of criticism! But really, isn't everyone feuding? And wasn't everything still going to be rather expensive, for somebody? Just this morning, some retail glitch stoked the flames too.

As the South Beach ACE people say, the scaling down of each proposal is rather simple:

"Both teams removing residential; both teams removing some retail north of 17th Street (we went from 40,000 SF to 20,000 SF; Portman going from 100,000 SF to 20,000 SF); both teams eliminating their cultural buildings. The city will retain control and ownership of the 17th Street garage and the developer selected will lease back the space for retail, then sublease it out. That's about it." However, commissioners have discussed adding back in some form of housing. As for the rest, the hotel's still there. The Jackie Gleason Theater's still there. The wiz-bang architectural bravado is still there. The ballrooms are still there. (Portman's got it next to City Hall, South Beach ACE has it upstairs at the Convention Center) With one major difference: Eliminating the housing and most of the retail gives South Beach ACE some spectacular parkland, including a full-scale public park north of City Hall and west of the Convention Center. (Portman puts the ballroom there)

The park has clearly defined edges, lush greenery by landscape architect Raymond Jungles, and - by separating it from the buildings - cannot be misperceived by the public as landscaping for the convention center and/or City Hall. Why is that good? People don't throw frisbees in landscaping. People don't use landscaping for parks. If it looks like a front yard, will anybody use it?

After all this draaaaama, in the end it's all about creating a really phenomenal design. Sure, making a good financial deal for the city is important, but In 20-30 years, unless the city's absolutely broke and this is what caused it (and it won't be) a supremely excellent design will have more of a lasting impact than anything else. If the design is really extraordinary, that may be all that matters. So, take another look at both teams' final presentations, brush up on Curbed Miami's coverage of the topic, and tell us what you think.

Which team has the better proposal for the revitalization of the Miami Beach Convention Center? Are you a fan of Rem Koolhaas and South Beach ACE, or do you rally behind Bjarke Ingels and Portman-CMC? Which team do you think should be given the job to redevelop the Miami Beach Convention Center?

Poll results

· Designs for Miami Beach Convention Center are sleek, smart, but flawed [Miami Herald]
· Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales: Scale back plans for convention center project. [Miami Herald]
· Small-scale housing urged at Miami Beach Convention Center [Miami Herald]
· New squabble erupts about Miami Beach Convention Center project [Miami Herald]
· Good urban design losing in Miami Beach [World Property Channel]
· Miami Beach Convention Center plans still costly despite scale back. [SFBJ]
· Glitch in Miami Beach Convention Center retail sparks controversy [SFBJ]
· Miami Beach Convention Center coverage [Curbed Miami]

Miami Beach Convention Center

1901 Convention Center Dr., Miami Beach, FL 33139