Tropical Storm Caused $450,000 in Damage to Miami Beach Convention Center

Tropical Storm Caused $450,000 in Damage to Miami Beach Convention Center
Courtesy of Tomas Kennedy
Tomorrow, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine will take the media on a tour of the Miami Beach Convention Center to show off the half-billion-dollar renovation the city mounted to expand and modernize the building.

The tour will, however, have to step carefully around huge swaths of water damage. According to a letter City Manager Jimmy Morales sent the city commission Thursday, the massive rains Tropical Storm Emily dumped on Miami Beach caused an estimated $450,000 in property damage to the Convention Center. Walls of water drenched the temporary roofing installed around parts of the property, damaging drywall, light fixtures, and other infrastructure.

It seems the city can't catch any breaks when it comes to renovating the center — construction delays have led residents to complain about the project for the last year, and the new damage won't help.

"There are locations at the Convention Center that have temporary roofing that were not designed to withstand the amount of rain over a two hour period that we experienced last Tuesday," city spokesperson Melissa Berthier tells New Times via email. "The damage is mostly to the drywall and ceilings, maybe some light fixtures, in a couple areas of the east lobby interior and some other locations. Also, some construction material being stored on-site was damaged."

Berthier says the $450,000 price tag is just an estimate. The city's construction team is conducting a full damage assessment.

Berthier emphasizes that the damage came from rain seeping in through the roof, not from the heavy floods that swallowed the city last week. Floods overwhelmed Miami Beach's still-under-construction, $400 million anti-flooding pumps when rain fell at twice the rate the systems were designed to handle. All that water backed up onto streets, bridges, and highways, paralyzing the city and causing as-yet-undetermined damage to homes and businesses. Two pumps in Sunset Harbor even lost power for two hours (as the city had been warned would happen), causing Levine to demand backup generators.

While the multimillion-dollar drainage system did help to clear the water faster than would have happened without the pumps, some residents and business owners expressed frustration at the mayor. Many say the pumping system's capabilities were oversold, and that they believed the flood-mitigation project that taxpayers funded would have stopped this sort of thing. The city says just 15 percent of the island is covered by the pumping system so far.

According to University of Miami weather scientist Brian McNoldy, so much rain fell so quickly last week that it likely would have flooded any city. But as tides rise, Miami is in for more events like last week. And, likewise, as climate change increases the frequency and severity of tropical cyclones, the city can expect more water-damage from the rain itself, too.
The $600 million Beach Convention Center renovation project has repeatedly fallen behind schedule. Last year, rumors of delays terrified the art world, since the main Art Basel Miami Beach art fair is held at the complex each December. (After much consternation, the event went on as planned.) As of April 2017, the project was 39 days behind schedule, which city officials warned would imperil the 2017 World OutGames, the LGBTQ multisport event that was supposed to take over Miami Beach earlier this summer. (Instead, it turns out the OutGames were a financial nightmare and possibly a fraudulent enterprise currently under investigation.) City commissioners, including Ricky Arriola, are now pushing a plan to demolish the historic Jackie Gleason Theater and replace it with a hotel near the convention center.

Thankfully, Berthier says the added rain damage won't imperil any upcoming events.

"The good news is that this did not affect any shows — nor will it — since the storm happened during a period of time between events," she said.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.