It’s finally here. After months of opposition that organizers never could have anticipated, the Miami International Boat Show is gearing up to take place at its new home — the Miami Marine Stadium Park and Basin — Feb. 11-15.
The show is generating excitement and enthusiasm, mixed with perhaps a bit of trepidation as with any unknown, from exhibitors as they look ahead to a show that has been completely reimagined and renewed as it marks its 75th year.
Many builders who wanted to increase their square footage at the packed Miami Beach Convention Center are expanding displays for 2016 and taking advantage of in-water display opportunities with boats 40 feet and above. The new site also will accommodate sea trials. The Strictly Sail portion of the show remains at its previous location — Miamarina at Bayside.
The National Marine Manufacturers Association, which runs the event, says it is building the entirely new show from the ground up with vast clear-paneled, air-conditioned tents that allow natural light to pour in and offer glimpses of the outside world and the water on Virginia Key.
“The product is all going to be nicely segregated,” says NMMA president Thom Dammrich. “There will be an engine tent, a sportfishing tent, an electronics and marine accessories tent. There will be 1,200 boats on display, and it all will be color-coded. In the center of the show there’s this whole outdoor courtyard where there will be a restaurant, and more displays at the entrance. And, of course, when you’re on the docks, a spectacular view of downtown Miami across Biscayne Bay.”
A beautiful show
The NMMA told exhibitors last year that this is going to be a completely different show and to plan accordingly, says Dammrich. As a result, “I think we’re going to see some very creative displays of product.”
Exhibitors say they will have a beautiful venue in which to create those displays. “The clear-span tents they’ve put up, the docks they’ve gotten from Bellingham Marine going in place now, everything is all brand new,” says Bentley Collins vice president of marketing and sales for Back Cove and Sabre.
Collins will bring larger boats — a Sabre 54 Flybridge and the new Sabre 66 Dirigo — to Yachts Miami Beach, formerly known as the Yacht & Brokerage Show in Miami Beach. That event is separately owned and operated, though it runs concurrently with the Miami International Boat Show (see Page 22) and will remain at its home along Collins Avenue. Smaller boats, two from Sabre and two from Back Cove, will be on display in the water on Virginia Key.
“They’re doing a very specific style of tent out there on the docks,” Collins says. “It really is going to be one of the prettiest boat show sites in the world. It will all be very coordinated. I’m very excited for both shows. I think the whole industry is embracing it. It’s a wonderful opportunity to start fresh. Everybody’s production is at full speed. If we have good weather, these shows should be quite successful.”
“Our logo uses the bright Miami colors, and we’ll be using those colors in carpeting and throughout, so it will be a very bright show,” says Dammrich. People will be spending lots of time in tents, he says, and those tents “have windows so they can see out to the water. And we will offer restaurants and bars on water, as well as on land.”
That organizers could plan every detail during the concerted effort by neighboring village Key Biscayne to block the show has been no small feat. Key Biscayne leaders did everything from filing lawsuits, including one against the NMMA that was later dismissed, to hiring a large PR firm to oppose the show (the same firm that worked to sway public opinion in favor of a massive two-week tennis tournament there). In the 12 months leading up the show it seemed that the dispute generated headlines almost every week. The permits that were needed to conduct the in-water portion of the show were allocated in December and January.
“It’s been a long haul to get here, but the Miami show is so critically important to our industry, and the new venue allows us all to rethink everything and take advantage of the new opportunities it offers,” says Joan Maxwell, president of Regulator Marine and chairwoman of the NMMA board.
Mercury president John Pfeifer agrees. “I’m pretty optimistic about the new venue and think we’ll see a totally different Miami show that will offer many improvements,” says Pfeifer, who is also on the NMMA board. “I believe the combination of the in-water and on-stand elements of the show will be very energetic. The ability to walk a customer from your booth down to the water to board a boat and show them what we’ve discussed will be very powerful.”
Bigger displays and sea trials, too
Regulator will take advantage of the new venue. “Our footprint will be twice the size of what we were able to have at the convention center, and we’re excited about the chance to set up our entire display with a clean sheet of paper,” Maxwell says. “All of our boats will sit in the water, so we not only can show how they ride, but how they sit in the water.”
Boston Whaler is another brand that will increase its presence, says sales, marketing and customer service vice president Jeff Vaughn. His company will have 50 percent more space than at the convention center, and twice as much if you count the demonstration area. That will allow the company to bring 50 percent more product than it’s had. The exposure is critical in the South Florida market, the national hotbed for 33- to 50-foot saltwater outboard boats, with robust sales in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, West Palm Beach and other areas.
“From a Boston Whaler perspective, this is the place in the world where most of them are purchased and used,” says Vaughn. “It’s also a place where people from all over the country — and hemisphere, for that matter — come to shop.”
Vaughn is excited about having more space to display boats. “The convention center had less supply than demand. They had folks outside in tents surrounding the convention center, so that was a hub of activity within the boat show, but we still didn’t have enough space,” says Vaughn. “We were lucky to have the space we had, but we requested more. This will allow that to occur.”
Adjacent to the roughly 10 slips Whaler will have will be an additional tent display, he says. “And there’s an area where demonstrations can occur, and I’ll have a couple of slips in the water for demonstration. If someone goes for a ride in a Whaler with those Verados and joysticks, they’re going to say, ‘Wow.’ ”
In all, Boston Whaler will have most of its models on display. “We haven’t had that option with the current portfolio we have,” Vaughn says. “We’ve added 18 models in four years. It’s not easy for any consumer to go to one place and see all the models anymore. And then to be able to go test a boat, or engines, at the same time. Here they can experience the differences between two or three boats.”
Two Sabres will be available for demonstrations, as well, Collins says. “We can do sea trials, which is a good thing — being able to consummate those sales.”
Transportation and parking
More than 10,000 parking spaces have been secured in downtown Miami, and show organizers say they’ve constructed a comprehensive transportation plan in conjunction with the city. There will be an additional 3,800 prepaid parking spaces on Virginia Key, adjacent to the show, for exhibitors — nearly double the number at the convention center.
The city of Miami hired a consultant to determine the most effective means of getting vehicles on and off Rickenbacker Causeway while keeping traffic flowing at all major intersections leading to the causeway. Rebuilt in 1985, the causeway is the primary thoroughfare connecting Miami with Virginia Key and Key Biscayne, making it a critical traffic point and access area.
Given the importance of the causeway to the entire region, the NMMA and the city used the consultant’s study as the foundation for a traffic plan that minimizes the boat show’s impact during its five-day run. It includes a lane dedicated to local traffic only in both directions and will be implemented by the Miami Transportation Department, the Miami Police Department, the Metro Miami-Dade County Police Department and the Miami deputy city manager.
A 15-minute water taxi ride will connect Strictly Sail at Bayside with the Marine Stadium site. Water taxis will shuttle show-goers between the NMMA venue on Virginia Key and Yachts Miami Beach. The taxis will pick up and drop off passengers at a dock on Purdy Avenue near the east end of the Venetian Causeway bridge in Miami Beach and at a dock at the NMMA show site on Virginia Key. At the Yachts Miami Beach end, a bus will shuttle passengers between the Purdy Avenue dock and Collins Avenue.
Water taxis and shuttle buses will be free to consumers, Dammrich says. “We’re really pushing hard for people to buy parking tickets before they leave home,” he says. “When they get there, they’ll know where their parking is. It’s easy to do without driving around searching. Then they hop on a water taxi or shuttle, and 15 minutes later they’re at the show.”
The transportation plan that Cathy Rick-Joule, vice president of NMMA boat shows, and her crew developed is “overkill,” says Maxwell. “So we’re confident the plan will work effectively,” she says.
A U.S. debut
Inflatable manufacturer Brig has chosen the event to make its U.S. debut and has booked almost 4,000 square feet of display space. “By viewing the latest show floor plan we are clearly the biggest stand by square footage in Hall C,” says Annapolis-based Neil Webster, who heads the Ukrainian company’s U.S. operations. “Competitors in our category — inflatable boats — all have considerably smaller stands. When we calculate the square footage of the stands in the remainder of the halls at the show, we believe we are one of the larger on-land exhibitors.”
The company was attracted to the show in part because of the new venue, Webster says. “I realize there have been many doomsayers concerned about the new venue. However, in our opinion [it] is a step forward and will offer many clear advantages.”
“Brig internationally attends over 100 boat shows a year,” Webster adds. “When we look at the world’s top boat shows, we view Miami near the top of the list. Internationally it certainly rates up there with Southampton, Düsseldorf, Cannes, Paris and Sydney. In our belief, the Miami boat show is, was and will always be the premier marine show in the U.S.A. Our research makes us firmly believe there is no other show that attracts the quality and quantity of potential leads.”
The new venue will make it easier for Rec Boat Holdings, which has several brands under its umbrella and added even more after France’s Beneteau Group acquired it, says RBH brand manager Julie Johnson. The group will have more space for less money because water space is less expensive than land space.
“It’s going to be interesting, no doubt; it’s a completely different venue,” Johnson says. “For us, logistically, it’s probably a little easier. In the past we had to build four different displays under the roof. And we always like displaying in the water — that’s where boats belong — so we’re pretty excited. The NMMA folks and Miami folks have been really great to work with through all the confusion.”
A new mood
Johnson thinks the new venue will lend the Miami show an atmosphere similar to the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. “I think there’s more of an exciting buzz around Fort Lauderdale because it is outside,” she says. “Putting boats in that environment sparks some excitement, rather than walking around an air-conditioned convention center. We like outside. It’s more casual. We’re in a fun business, not in a stuffy suit and tie.”
MarineMax, which will not have a display, will be at the show supporting its builders and making sure everything runs smoothly, says marketing manager Abbey Heimensen.
“It’s a great opportunity to see boats at a different venue,” Heimensen says. “We’re going to work hard to make sure it’s a success, not only for our OEMs but easy for our customers, too. We want them to be able to touch and see the boats and make sure it’s not a hassle for them — and basically anything we can do as a team to get them where they need to go.”
“It’s obviously going to be a change for us. It’s going to be new, but I think the team at the NMMA has done everything they can do to put together the best alternative for us that they could find,” says Gavan Hunt, sales and marketing vice president for Cobalt Boats. “The time of year hasn’t changed. I believe that will be a great show.”
Collins says he is equally excited for both shows and the unique elements each has to offer. “If you look at the NMMA show, and how it focuses on everything from electronics to sun chairs to stand-up paddleboards and canoes, they’ve got a tremendous show for people to see and familiarize themselves with the industry. The two shows have the potential to be quite successful, and they are quite different from each other. They each have their distinct personality, and I think over time that will continue to develop.”
This article originally appeared in the February 2016 issue.