Deal’s off, but show’s on in Miami

Agreement falls through at the last minute, but Miami and NMMA officials vow the boat show is a go at the new site
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NMMA executives and Miami officials say the boat show will go on at the Marine Stadium and Basin grounds, whether or not there is a mediation agreement with the move’s Key Biscayne opponents.

NMMA executives and Miami officials say the boat show will go on at the Marine Stadium and Basin grounds, whether or not there is a mediation agreement with the move’s Key Biscayne opponents.

Miami International Boat Show organizers are assuring exhibitors that the latest negative news regarding the show’s move will in no way affect its scheduled Feb. 11-15 run.

“The 2016 boat show is moving forward at the Miami Marine Stadium Park and Basin, regardless of mediation,” says Ellen Hopkins, a spokeswoman for the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which produces the show.

Just as a resolution of the dispute between Miami and its Key Biscayne suburb seemed within reach, officials of the two municipalities locked horns again, and the proposed agreement went south at the last minute. The botched deal followed a period of quiet in the drawn-out public dispute as mediators worked behind the scenes to find common ground.

A scantily attended protest in August by boat show opponents seemed to take the event out of the headlines for a few weeks and fueled speculation that the opposition was confined to a handful of Key Biscayne officials. Rally organizers predicted that the protest would draw thousands; only a few dozen people showed up, the Miami Herald reported.

Key Biscayne officials, who oppose the move to the Virginia Key marine stadium site, released a proposed settlement agreement to the local media in October. Those officials cite concerns that include traffic, floating docks and environmental sensitivity. The village has retained the public relations firm Schwartz Media to launch a campaign blitz to sway public opinion against the move.

Despite the failed deal, which seemed to put the future of the show’s location beyond 2017 into question, show organizers and city officials continue to assure the industry that the show’s venue is not in question. “It would be great if the city and village can come to an agreement, but we want the Miami Marine Stadium to be a long-term venue,” says Hopkins.

The settlement agreement had been drafted between the two parties in an effort to resolve the lawsuit the village filed against the city over plans to hold the boat show, and potentially other large events, at the stadium, which has languished since Hurricane Andrew damaged it in 1992. In addition to its two lawsuits against the city, the village is suing the NMMA.

The agreement, first obtained by The Islander News and published by the Herald, would have given the village a stake in the event space by picking up half of the $31 million tab. However, it also could have put the show’s future into question beyond 2017.

The agreement would have allowed the 2016 show to move ahead without further opposition from the village. It also would have allowed the show to continue in 2017 as long as there was not a death or “catastrophic event” directly attributed to the event — for example, an emergency rescue vehicle failing to get to a hospital because of traffic. It also says that after the 2017 boat show, events with fewer than 10,000 guests a day and lasting fewer than seven consecutive days can be held between Nov. 21 and Jan. 5 each year.

After 2017, the fate of the boat show would be in the hands of a private conservancy governed by six members — three appointed by the city and three by the village. That clause worried some in the industry, who thought it gave the village leverage to force the show to find another venue after sinking millions of dollars into the rehabilitation of the Marine Stadium Park and Basin.

“While it’s unfortunate the mediation between the village of Key Biscayne and city of Miami has hit an impasse, we believe an agreement that ensures a long-term home for the [show] at Miami Marine Stadium Park and Basin is the best path forward,” NMMA president Thom Dammrich says.

Such an agreement would “protect the $597 million in economic activity [the show] generates for the state of Florida each year” and annual revenue to the city of Miami of over $1 million, Dammrich says. He promised the NMMA will “continue to work with city officials to make the site the home of the boat show in 2016 and beyond.”

Critics of the deal accused the village of caring only about obtaining a financial stake in the show. Key Biscayne mayor Mayra Peña Lindsay ultimately said the deal was at odds with the village’s core beliefs. The Herald later reported that the village ultimately backed out of the deal — which would have resolved all three lawsuits brought by Key Biscayne in its effort to thwart the show — after meeting behind closed doors with city officials for close to two hours.

Lindsay told the Herald that the village declared an impasse after determining that “certain demands from the city are simply at odds with the village’s core values” of protecting the surrounding environment and limiting the intensity of the site’s use. “It’s unfortunate that the city of Miami does not share our vision,” she says.

Miami commissioner Marc Sarnoff, who negotiated the agreement on behalf of the city over seven mediation sessions, calls the village’s decision “grossly disappointing.” He says the talks fell apart over a fairly minute issue regarding how many days of events could go on during the month of December. “A lot of work and effort went into it,” he told the Herald. “It’s a shame politics got in the way of good judgment.”

Opponents of the move say it will cause nightmarish traffic tie-ups on the MacArthur Causeway.

Opponents of the move say it will cause nightmarish traffic tie-ups on the MacArthur Causeway.

Barring a surprise turn of events, the village will likely seek to litigate its two lawsuits against the city, which have been delayed for months because of state laws that dictate a series of mediation efforts when one municipality sues another.

Meanwhile, the city will continue work on a $23 million outdoor park and event space where the boat show will place its upland exhibits if the show is hosted as planned during the Presidents Day weekend.

A separate conservancy proposal championed by Sarnoff and pushed by the Miami and Knight foundations is still on the table, with purportedly $7.5 million in private commitments already behind it and more on the way if the proposal is approved. In a plan that very closely tracks the Marine Stadium proposal, the city would retain ownership of the Museum Park while a nonprofit governs the 19 acres south of the two private museums and the Florida East Coast Railway boat slip that separates the park from American Airlines Arena.

Under the proposal, a related but separate “friends” nonprofit entity would solicit and bank contributions from private and public donors.

Rebecca Mandelman, the Miami Foundation’s point person on the project, says the conservancy would preserve the public aspect of the park. At times it is now leased out to private events. She says that although the conservancy will be a private operator, public participation will be key to the way the park is designed and operated.

But the idea of ceding control of one of the city’s newest and most attractive parks to a private organization worried mayor Tomás Regalado, who asked commissioners to hit pause after the whirlwind of failed negotiations so more public discussion can begin.

Regalado told Trade Only last summer that he could not envision a scenario in which the show will not take place. He says site work at the stadium park and basin is on schedule and on budget. The NMMA launched a consumer marketing campaign and sent a letter to exhibitors to assure them that the failed deal in no way affects the 2016 show.

Show organizers also have worked with city officials to unveil extensive traffic and parking mitigation plans, which they say has not occurred with organizers of the big tennis tournament that takes place over the course of two weeks on the key — and receives village support.

“The city is fully committed to having the boat show here,” says Hopkins. “We’ve invested millions of dollars in infrastructure on the site. We’ve put permanent structures on that site, so we can have the show there for years. We are working with the city to make sure the boat show has a home there for many years to come.”

Exhibitors remain excited about the prospects at the new venue, says NMMA vice president Ben Wold. “This venue offers a lot of pluses we didn’t have in the old location,” he says. “Attendees can buy tickets online and know they’ve got a dedicated parking spot. Or they can come by water taxi if they want, which is kind of cool. And this will keep the show all in one central location, with tented and in-water space.”

The show was forced to look for a new home because of a major renovation of its former venue, the Miami Beach Convention Center, during the next two years.

This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue.

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