"What the hell is this?" asked a woman standing outside the chainlink fence that separated her and her date from Lincoln Road Mall. Answer: the closing blowout party of Pow Wow 1999, a convention of international travel professionals held three weeks ago at the Miami Beach Convention Center. The conclave brought to town more than 6000 people from 70 countries, including the kind of people who purchase blocks of hotel rooms and who hold the power to steer millions of tourists to a particular region.
With all these influential people loose on their home turf, Miami tourism officials made sure they saw the Magic City at its absolute best. Like a Vizcaya brunch catered by Norman Van Aken and other top chefs. Like a private Bayside Park concert featuring Carlos Ponce. And like a Lincoln Road free of its usual population of dogs, kamikaze bike riders, and menacing muscle boys, a pedestrian shopping mall where the Colombian pan flutes were replaced by mambo legend Israel "Cachao" Lopez, and where every meal at every restaurant was free. Including restaurants a local resident might have tried to patronize.
"We just want to go to Sushi Siam," pleaded the woman outside the fence.
Too bad. Five full blocks of Lincoln Road were surrendered to Pow Wow. Inline skaters were forbidden, except for a rolling police patrol. After a dinner at Pacific Time or South Beach Brasserie, conventioneers could step into the Frieze for complimentary ice cream, or into Zeke's Roadhouse for a free pint or two or three. Only at 11:00 p.m. were the fences removed, and almost immediately the mood on the Road hardened. But by then most of the travel agents had been safely transported to a swanky after-party at the new Loews Hotel on Collins Avenue. By the next day they were out of town altogether.
Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau officials claim they spent nearly two million dollars hosting various parties, but they refuse to provide specifics about how their money was spent, such as how many beer bottles were emptied or how much the bikini babes were paid. Our photos will just have to speak for themselves.