Accessory tents were a preview of next year’s move

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The 2015 Miami International Boat Show will be remembered as the last before two of the three venues are relocated to a newly constructed hub on nearby Virginia Key for the show’s 75th anniversary next year.

Accessory vendors got a sense of the change this year when show producers moved them from inside the Miami Beach Convention Center into large air-conditioned tents behind the building. “We made a decision to change the configuration, to move the accessories into pavilions to get more boats into the convention center,” says Joan Maxwell, president of Regulator Marine and the NMMA chairwoman.

The approximately 650 boats inside the convention center this year were the most ever, according to the NMMA. “The reconfiguration was to deliver a better experience to the customer coming to the show,” Maxwell says. “If we were going to stay [at the convention center] 100 years, it would still be a good idea to fill the convention center with boats.”

Although the main draw of boat shows is obviously boats, accessories will always be essential, as well, Maxwell says. Accessory vendors with a long history inside the convention center say they were disappointed with the move to the tents, but Maxwell says very few backed out of the show because of it. “There was no mass exodus,” she says. “That was helped, in part, by good leadership on the NMMA’s Accessory Manufacturer Division board, in particular Michele Goldsmith of Mastervolt and Bill Watters of Syntec Industries.”

Sebastian Blackman, president of Scandvik Marine, says it was an adjustment after so many years inside the building, but he understood the reasoning behind the move. “We have found a lot of people are getting out here for us, so I’m not too upset,” Blackman said during the show. “The customers — consumers, distributors and dealers — are finding us. We’ll see how it all comes together a year from now.”

Don Zabransky, Pettit Paint’s vice president of sales and marketing, agrees, saying he would have preferred to remain in the convention center but saw no dip in traffic. “We’ll see how it translates next year,” he says.

The temperature inside the climate-controlled enclosed tents was about the same as in the convention center, and the high ceiling, sections of transparent material and ample lighting made for a bright interior. Foot traffic appeared comparable to the scene inside the building during a midday walkthrough on the opening day of the show. “It’s not a tent; it’s a temporary building,” Maxwell says.

The reconfiguration at this year’s show was made irrespective of next year’s move, she says, but adds that it “helped us to really see what it would feel like in that environment before moving to the new location.”

At the Virginia Key venue next year, plans call for the accessories area to be twice as long and three times as wide as the area was this year. The city of Miami has committed to investing $16 million to rejuvenate the neglected Miami Marine Stadium Park and Basin, which has been dormant since 1992. The NMMA will build custom docks and erect the tents to accommodate exhibitors. “During the [convention center] reconfiguration process for this year, we on the board were all asking why we didn’t do this sooner,” Maxwell says. “I think we’re going to get to Virginia Key and ask the same question: Why didn’t we do this sooner?”

The NMMA executive committee visited Virginia Key on Feb. 10, and in walking the site, Maxwell said it was obvious there is tremendous potential. “The green-blue water, you look back on the city of Miami. The site looks like boating and fun and all the things we in the industry have been talking about,” she says. “Plus, it has access by land, by water taxis, by private boat and [represents] a great expansion of the ability for sea trials.”

The basin area — the size of the Washington Mall in the nation’s capital — can accommodate at least 700 slips and will be able to handle larger yachts with more draft. More than 1,500 boats will be on display on land and in the water. On land, air-conditioned and open-air tent structures will span Marine Stadium Park.

“The future for the show is incredible,” Maxwell says. “The mayor (Tomás Pedro Regalado) told us during the walking tour, ‘This is an opportunity for the NMMA to leave a legacy.’ And I think he is right.”

This article originally appeared in the March 2015 issue.

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