This summer we discussed the battle for the future of the Miami Beach Convention Center between developers Portman-CMC and South Beach ACE. In July, beach commissioners decided that they agreed with South Beach ACE’s vision for the future of the convention center district. Little did the city know that at as quickly as one battle would end, a more onerous one would begin.

Tomorrow, when the voters of Miami Beach visit the polls, they will face a choice between candidates who would like to see the South Beach ACE vision through and those who would like to see the project scaled down. Citizens will also be voting on a referendum that could move the amount of votes to approve the convention center project from a simple majority to a super majority, requiring 60 percent of the vote and making the project more difficult to pass.

However, most agree that the issue is not whether the convention center should be renovated at all, as it clearly needs an update. The convention business is a key contributor to the tourism dollars that are the foundation of the city’s revenues. The city cannot afford to let that activity slide down.

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Rendering of the proposed Miami Beach Convention Center renovation

The real debate is in regards to whether the project is worth the bill to the taxpayers or if the vision is too grandiose. If the project were to stay as is, taxpayers in Miami Beach would be on the hook for $600 million. An amount that would be covered by a pre-approved increase in hotel taxes, as well as land leases and county taxes.

The 800-room hotel proposed by South Beach ACE has also been the center of quite a bit of controversy. If approved, South Beach ACE would lease public land for 99 years in order to build a hotel for the convention center, as well as 90,000-square feet of retail. Some city officials worry that 99 years would be too long a period for the city to lease such important land.

High-end hotels have also taken issue with the idea of making the hotel a place where convention-goers could escape some of the higher hotel rates in the beach area. The Fontainebleau, for example, has donated $15,000 to Let Miami Beach Decide, an organization supporting efforts against the current plan. Beach Commissioner Jonah Woflson, who set up the Let Miami Beach Decide movement, agrees with the Fontainebleau’s motives, claiming that Miami should stay “a high end destination.”

Either way, the saga of the Miami Beach Convention Center renovation continues to captivate with every new chapter it enters. This week will be the biggest milestone yet for the future of the project. All eyes in Miami-Dade County will be on the voters in Miami Beach tomorrow.

For more on the politics behind tomorrow’s decision, take a look at this article from the Miami Herald.

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