Miami Beach Kills Starchitect Convention Center, but Developer Might Fight Decision

South Beach ACE's proposed design
South Beach ACE's proposed design

Miami Beach's "starchitect"-designed convention center is dead. And we have killed it.

Well, technically, it was new Mayor Philip Levine and the equally new city commission who killed it. But it was a death foretold last November, when Miami Beach voters overwhelmingly backed opponents of the $1 billion project.

The commission's decision didn't sit too well with South Beach ACE, the developer chosen by the city just six months ago.

The decision to scrap the SoBe development was no surprise, but it is a remarkable turnaround from just a few months ago.

When commissioners selected South Beach ACE in July, the project seemed to be on the fast track for voter approval in November. With a swooping, futuristic design by Rem Koolhaas and the requested onsite hotel, the once-controversial issue seemed finally decided.

But Commissioner Jonah Wolfson -- backed by the Fontainebleau, which stood to lose business to the new hotel -- successfully sued to have the convention center question stripped from the ballot.

So instead of a straight-up yes or no on the megaproject, the November 5 vote delivered a new batch of politicians.

Those pols -- Mayor Levine and Commissioners Micky Steinberg, Michael Grieco, and Joy Malakoff -- joined Wolfson and two other commissioners in unanimously rejecting the starchitect project in favor of a slimmed-down proposal.

The city will instead solicit bids for a less ambitious renovation of the convention center, the Miami Herald reports. A parallel bid process will begin for a hotel to be built nearby.

Naturally, SBACE was pretty pissed with the about-face.

"During the two-year procurement process that concluded with SBACE being selected as the exclusive Master Developer, SBACE was induced to spend millions of dollars to produce a grand, iconic master plan for the Convention Center site with the expectation that the City would proceed in good faith," an attorney for the developer wrote in a letter to the city. "The Mayor's Memorandum omits numerous material facts, including, but not limited to, the City's action post award to SBACE and our ongoing stated willingness to proceed."

The letter suggests SBACE might insist the city honor its agreement.

During the commission meeting, Levine said the smaller project could be completed more quickly.

But the decision to scrap starchitecture for a smaller price tag could hurt Miami Beach in the long run.

Already, the president of the American Institute of Architects -- which chose Miami Beach for its convention in 2010 -- complained to commissioners that they had just lost the group's business.

"Miami Beach is not under consideration due to the substandard design aesthetic, the abhorrent condition of the convention center, antiquated technological infrastructure, insufficient air-conditioned exhibition space, and lack of a convention center hotel," John R. Forbes wrote, according to the Herald.

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