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Miami Beach Convention Center renovation is almost done. Here’s what it looks like.

November 2, 2018

The Miami Beach Convention Center just completed the main phase of its three-year $620 million renovation.  It added 263,000 square feet of space and 10 new meeting rooms and received LEED Silver Certification (granted to environmentally friendly buildings).

Some of the improvements are immediately obvious, such as the facility’s striking new exterior — a collaboration between Fentress Architects and Arquitectonica — that uses more than 500 giant fins of aluminum and glass to create an undulating facade, reminiscent of an ocean wave rolling onto the beach.

The aquatic theme extends to the Center’s refurbished west entrance, with swooping curves, glistening white columns and subdued lighting that make the 60-year-old facility feel brand new.

09MB CONVENTION CENTER RENO

Sunlight hits the east entrance of the newly renovated Miami Beach Convention Center on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018, in Miami Beach.

Officials hope it will also help boost Miami-Dade’s $26 billion tourism industry, helping it to grab a greater share of the U.S. meetings industry, which generated $325 billion in 2016, according to an economic significance study by Oxford Economics.

One critical piece of the project, though, won’t be decided until Nov. 6. That’s when voters will decide whether to approve the construction of an 800-room headquarters hotel, to be built on a city-owned parcel of land adjacent to the convention center.

Staying competitive

Miami Beach city officials say the massive upgrade to the Convention Center was critical to making the aging facility competitive in the crowded but lucrative convention industry.

“The old building had become more of a consumer show space which drew visitors from South Florida but not people staying in hotels in Miami Beach,” said Miami Beach city manager Jimmy Morales. “The building was old and lacked some things that could make it competitive for city-wide conventions and trade groups that draw tourists with spending dollars. We didn’t have a big ballroom. We didn’t have enough conference space.”

Ballrooms are no longer a problem at the convention center: It now has five, including a 60,000-square-foot grand ballroom — big enough to double as a cavernous dance club, complete with dramatic lighting — and a 20,000-square-foot, glass rooftop ballroom to host VIP events.

Infrastructure improvements include upgrades to the center’s notoriously spotty Wi-Fi and cellphone reception, the addition of digital signage, and stronger hurricane and flooding safeguards.

Also returning: the 17th edition of Art Basel Miami Beach (Dec. 6-9), the largest contemporary art fair in the U.S., which drew a record-setting 82,000 visitors from around the world with its 2017 edition, according to Greybrook Realty Partners. Art Basel is signed to return to the Convention Center until 2023 and holds an option to remain at the venue from 2024-2028.

“The Miami Beach Convention Center has been a terrific home to Art Basel in Miami Beach since our first show in 2002 — and we’re so pleased to present our 17th edition in the brand new state-of-the-art facility,” said Noah Horowitz, Art Basel Director Americas. “The renovation allows us to completely reimagine our layout, design and visitor experience.”

A convention hotel

But the question remains whether the Miami Beach Convention Center can fill its annual calendar with “city-wide conventions” — events that require around 1,500 hotel rooms, impacting all of Miami-Dade — and much of that rests on voters approving a headquarters hotel on Nov. 6.

“This is not a convention center that is going to have 100 conventions a year,” said Rolando Aedo, chief operating officer of the GMCVB. “The AHIMA convention was only three days, but they were working for weeks in advance to set up the exhibits. For us it’s about quality, not quantity. Our focus is on conventions that draw in the 3,000-4,000 range, not 20,000-25,000 people.”

The renovation is the first major facelift the Beach convention center has gotten since 1989, when a $92 million makeover expanded the facility’s capacity to its current four halls. Tourism officials began clamoring for another refresher a decade later. An attempt in 2013 to expand the building by adding a hotel and retail spaces — at a cost of $600 million in public funds — was derailed by a campaign led by Miami Beach Commissioner Jonah Wolfson.

A new renovation proposal, which eliminated the controversial hotel element, was launched in 2014. The project was paid for by government bonds funded by various sources, including hotel and county property taxes and parking revenues.

But now that the makeover is done, the need for a hotel persists. Aedo estimates that 28 city-wide conventions per year would achieve optimum usage of the Beach convention center. But that number is not attainable, he said, without a headquarters hotel.

The Miami Beach Convention Center’s renovation adds 263,000 square feet of space to the center, bringing the facility’s total to 1.43 million square feet.

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