The National Marine Manufacturers Association overcame a major hurdle in its efforts to use Miami Marine Stadium Park as a venue for its 2016 Miami International Boat Show when the City Commission agreed in January to pay for improvements at the park. But with all the attention taken up by the funding issue, little is clear about what the show actually will look like.
A major NMMA goal at this year’s Miami show (Feb. 12-16) is to give a clearer picture of what to expect next year. Show organizers are planning a major effort to shed light on the details of the park and how the space will be used and get exhibitors thinking about how they can make the new venue work for them.
“Anybody who participates is going to have to rethink their whole approach to the show, just like we’re rethinking how the whole show is presented,” says NMMA president Thom Dammrich.
“People are focusing on the show coming up soon, and we’ll be getting all the information out there about 2016,” he says. “We’ll have a display and a lot of information available this February in Miami about what things will look like. There will be site drawings. It’ll be pretty clear.”
The goal will be to get exhibitors thinking outside the box and rethinking presentation and possibilities — whether they want exhibit space in air-conditioned tents on land or whether they want to be in the water right next to that.
“It’s quite an undertaking, and it will take some time for everyone to get their head around it,” Dammrich says. “We’re talking to people about what’s possible and preparing them for the fact that they might have to make some changes.”
For example, organizers might have to designate size ranges for the land portion and other sizes to the water, he says. “This is the most exciting thing to happen to the Miami boat show in 75 years. It’s a dramatically different venue, so it’s going to be a different show. How people present themselves and their product — they’re going to have to give some thought to that and understand, ‘We’re not going to do what we did last year.’ It’s going to be new.”
Approval to move forward
Until the Miami City Commission voted on Jan. 8 to spend as much as $16 million during the next year to upgrade the grounds around the stadium, much of the discussion centered on whether the NMMA would be able to pull off a financing agreement in time. Commissioners also unanimously approved a license allowing the NMMA, which owns the show, to hold the event there. The association will pay the city $1.1 million a year in rent and half of the concessions and parking sales.
Improvements will not be made to the stadium, Dammrich clarifies, but to the grounds known as the Miami Marine Stadium Park. “There will be boats on the water near the stadium, but the stadium itself is not part of the boat show. It’s a very small footprint within the whole Miami Stadium Park.”
Commissioners voted to authorize a bond issue to pay for improvements to a 15-acre area outside the waterfront stadium, including seven undeveloped acres to the east of the shuttered venue that will be paved, lined with utilities and covered with artificial turf. “We’ve got a footprint that will allow us — especially with the in-water space, which is unlimited — more space for boats and accessories than we had before,” Dammrich says.
Commissioners voted unanimously on the boat show deal and stadium grounds upgrade despite criticism from the village of Key Biscayne that the show agreement was “rushed,” according to some local news reports. Some also noted that the deal negotiated with the NMMA has no length and could potentially leave the city to finance a $16 million facility without an anchor tenant.
“We’ve been talking with officials in Key Biscayne,” Dammrich says. “They’re concerned about traffic on the Rickenbacker Causeway, but they also do a major tennis tournament that draws about 80,000 people. This is about the same thing. We’re going to try and transport people by bus and water taxi and do everything we can to minimize the impact.”
Open tolling will prevent backups on the causeway, and ample parking space will minimize traffic caused by those looking for spaces by giving people “a place to go,” Dammrich says. “I don’t think it’s going to be a major problem, but we want the support of Key Biscayne and will work with them to make sure they’re delighted with and supportive of the boat show, as well.”
The stadium is on 82-acre Virginia Key, which is within city limits. The property belongs to the city of Miami and is maintained by the Miami Parks and Recreation Department, but the responsibility is shared in part with the Virginia Key Beach Trust, which manages the historic portion of the beachfront and oversees the preservation and future development of Virginia Key Beach, according to the city’s parks and recreation website. It is located in Biscayne Bay, north of Key Biscayne, where several preserves and environmental protections are in place.
That led to concerns that had been addressed before the Jan. 8 vote. For example, the show agreed to walk away from a piece of land that had some environmental impact from the county’s perspective, says Cathy Rick-Joule, the NMMA’s vice president for boat shows. “I won’t disagree that with any event we produce, there’s always challenges, and even more so when we’re working with properties on the water,” she says. “There are a whole different level of approvals needed.”
The city has ordered a traffic study during the 2015 show to “be proactive in trying to understand the impact,” she says. “We are working together on how to minimize that.”
Key Biscayne has asked that most of the heavy-equipment traffic happen during overnight or off-peak hours. “That’s something we do already,” says Rick-Joule. “We have also met with all the tenants of Virginia Key … on that campus, and they have all 100 percent agreed they want to work with us and be part of the footprint. We believe we can be good neighbors.”
Parking was another concern, but Rick-Joule says the parking situation is a positive in moving the show. “There’s plentiful parking between Virginia Key and Key Biscayne,” she says, adding that organizers have approached the county with a proposal to use Cramden Park lots, which are used for the annual tennis tournament there. “I think we’re going to get a favorable response.”
Twists and turns
Locals’ concern has not been the only distraction from the actual event. Just one week after a big public announcement with the Friends of Miami Marine Stadium — fronted by pop star Gloria Estefan — a potential deal crumbled. City officials said then that they’d rather pursue their own plan, even if it meant spending millions in public dollars.
City commissioners could have voted to formally negotiate a potential 98-year lease for the stadium and two dozen surrounding waterfront acres with the Friends of Miami Marine Stadium. The nonprofit group held a press conference with Dammrich and Rick-Joule, along with Mayor Tomás Regalado and other public officials, to announce that they’d secured financing.
However, a team of private partners included a financier who had just filed for personal bankruptcy. Civic groups and the village of Key Biscayne also raised concerns about a piece of that plan that proposed a commercial complex with a 125,000-square-foot expo center and a 280-slip dry-dock storage facility.
The NMMA maintained that the scuttled $121 million deal that would have transferred the stadium — which has remained in disrepair since Hurricane Andrew tore through in 1992 — to the nonprofit group would not affect the show coming to the stadium in 2016 and 2017 while the Miami Beach Convention Center is being renovated.
Michele Goldsmith, global marketing manager and key accounts sales manager for Power Products LLC’s marine division, says the NMMA has done a great job of representing the industry to stakeholders in Miami throughout the process.
“I think it could be a fantastic venue for us if everything comes to fruition,” Goldsmith says. “There are opportunities in water, on land, and easy parking right there. I think it could consolidate us into one area and make it a lot easier for attendees to navigate the whole show.”
Confidence in organizers
Even before the commission approved millions in public dollars, many exhibitors said they were optimistic about the possibility of having the show at the new venue. “I think it would really revitalize things on the marine side,” says Alan Nederlanden of the insurer Bateman Gordon & Sands Inc., an exhibitor at the show. “Having the boat show there would be tremendous.”
Some are looking forward to having an outdoor location for displays that traditionally have been inside the Miami Beach Convention Center, even though being outside could introduce other elements to the show. “I think it’ll be cool,” says Brownies YachtDiver Stores president Dave Carmichael. “The venue looks pretty nice. It’s going to be a little tough logistically the first year for them getting everything ready, but I think it’ll be a nice, open look with the water right there.”
Peter Orlando of EdgeWater Power Boats also expressed confidence in the NMMA’s ability to pull the show off. “I’m sure the NMMA is looking at all the logistics and is working out the best scenario for it,” he says. “It could work to everyone’s advantage — being outside at that time of year is to everyone’s benefit. The jury’s still out, but I’m trying to stay positive. We’ll deal with it when it comes. The NMMA has spent a lot of time deliberating this. I’m sure they’ve looked at everything. So from an EdgeWater standpoint, we’re behind them.”
Carmichael says it’s encouraging to see local officials working together to bring the show to the stadium site. “There’s always going to be a little infighting. I’ve got to have faith, though,” he says. “The right people are behind it. The idea’s perfect to have it at the marine stadium.”
The new location also could be pivotal in expanding the show’s footprint in the future, Dammrich says, because the NMMA also has not ruled out the idea of occupying both locations when the convention center renovations are complete. And the “unlimited, protected deep water” gives the group the ability to accommodate any size boat in what it says will be a big in-water component of the show.
“The industry is growing. It’s very likely the show will grow, as well,” Dammrich says. “Miami is an international boating destination, and this is going to be a great venue for the show. There are no limits to what could be done at this location. There will be a big in-water segment. We’ll be able to accommodate anything — boats of any size.”
The show has always had multiple venues — Sea Isle Marina, the Miami Beach Convention Center and Miamarina at Bayside Marketplace with Strictly Sail. The other venues will remain unchanged.
“We’re working with the Miami Beach Convention Center to see what is possible during and after construction,” Dammrich says. “It will depend on a lot of things and whether they build a convention center that will be appropriate for a boat show.”
The Yacht & Brokerage Show in Miami Beach, which runs concurrently with the NMMA’s Miami show in February, is staying at its Collins Avenue location. That show is produced by Show Management, which co-owns it with the Floria Yacht Brokers Association. (Soundings Trade Only and Show Management are owned by Active Interest Media.)
The possibility of linking venues with a water taxi is a plus, Nederlander says. “As you know, traffic is so brutal, particularly because that’s the height of the season. It’s extra-crowded because the boat show is so successful. It’s so time-consuming [to get from place to place.] Having them linked by water will greatly facilitate it. Obviously that’s dependent upon having enough water taxis because there are more buses [available in the area]. But that’s a logistical thing. I think it would have to be a tremendous improvement. I just look at it and think this would be a jewel if they can bring it together.”