Despite hurdles along the way, all cylinders are firing with six months to go until the Progressive Miami International Boat Show stages its 75th production in a new venue Feb. 11-15. The village of Key Biscayne is still fighting plans to hold the show at the Miami Marine Stadium Park and Basin — filing lawsuits against the city of Miami and boat show organizers — but the momentum hasn’t slowed.
“Things are moving forward, and we are following our master plan, and we believe that the boat show at the Miami Marine Stadium will be a win-win for the city and for the show,” says Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado. “For the city, because we will keep the boat show in Miami Dade County, and it will be in the city of Miami, where it began 75 years ago. So it’s coming home. And for the boat show, because it will have a spectacular view of the Miami skyline, and it will be on the water.”
The show is to feature hundreds of boats in the water and 600,000 square feet of what organizers call upland space, capable of accommodating three to four times as many vessels as they could at the Miami Beach Convention Center, which will be renovated in 2016 and 2017. Organizers say they will cap the number of boats in the water at 500.
The industry seems undaunted by the opposition. Several exhibitors say they are excited about the prospects of building the show from the ground up. And the show’s owner, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, has worked with Miami officials to mitigate traffic problems — providing water taxis for roughly all of the daily visitors, as well as shuttles — blocking out the biggest number of hotel rooms ever and tapping Bellingham Marine to construct encapsulated floating docks that prevent Styrofoam from getting into the marine environment.
“This show started with 50 boats under a tent,” says NMMA vice president and Miami show manager Cathy Rick-Joule. It was halted during World War II but resumed in the postwar era.
“Miami is delighted to have the show back [from Miami Beach],” says Rick-Joule. “They are committed to getting us across the finish line. We couldn’t be luckier.”
Organizers and Miami officials have approved all of the plans, and construction has begun on the flex park, which will be the area in which the boat show takes place, Regalado says. “It’s on time, on budget, and I think that they will have the park ready when they need it” so preparations can begin.
Exhibitors can preship freight to the show, and it will be warehoused in Miami free for 30 days prior to the show move-in. There it’s repackaged, based on its location within the show, Rick-Joule says. “It’s a very efficient way to move inbound and outbound freight, all during off-peak traffic hours. We can move as much freight in five hours as we could do all day if working in peak travel hours.”
Organizers are transitioning nearly 900 exhibitors from the former Miami Beach Convention Center and Sea Isle locations to the park on Virginia Key, says assistant show manager and director of sales Larry Berryman. Of those, nearly 90 percent had committed to taking space in the new venue as of late June.
“When we started allocating space in May, we started with current exhibitors,” Berryman says. “We’re about a third or half of the way through that now. We also have significant inquiries from new exhibitors from people on Collins Avenue, or those who haven’t had space in the show before. We’re taking applications and space requests from potential new exhibitors. That’s exciting for us because we have never had an entire reallocation of exhibitors before. Everyone has a chance to select the kind of space they’d like.”
Many exhibitors are taking the same amount of space they had in the convention center, but some are complementing on-land space — of which there is about 600,000 square feet (less than the 1 million square feet at the former venue) that organizers expect to completely fill — with an in-water presence, he says. “The in-water and upland space is closely adjoined, which becomes a selling point to exhibitors. It’s a new opportunity for us to have our exhibitors showcase products in a completely comprehensive area without really any separation.”
“Not many boat shows can provide major booth space and on-water opportunities close to one another, so in many ways the 2016 Miami boat show lends itself to a unique atmosphere and an exciting experience,” says Mercury Marine spokesman Steve Fleming. “These changes could create a new and positive tone. We’re looking forward to taking full advantage of the options.”
Show officials say other exhibitors share Fleming’s enthusiasm. “We’re ahead of where we were this time last year in the number that have committed,” says Rick-Joule. “Probably about 15 to 20 percent. We started allocating space earlier than last year. People often are taking more space than they had in the prior footprint. We have quite a few boat exhibitors taking not only the same amount of square footage, but additionally taking slips in the water to complement their displays.”
Overall, the show can accommodate three to four times more boats in the water than at the previous in-water section at Sea Isle, says Berryman. “We expect to have 400 to 500 vessels in the water. That’s our cap. I won’t say it’s unlimited, but we have the ability to grow it. We’ve already allocated more room for in-water boats than we did at Sea Isle, and we’re not even halfway through this process.”
The Accessories Pavilion, which was introduced last year in anticipation of the new venue, will be upland in a network of six large air-conditioned tents with contiguous boundaries, Berryman says.
“My belief is that we are going to be improved” from last year’s show, Rick-Joule says.
The city of Miami hired a consultant, Kimley Horn, to conduct a traffic study 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 both Virginia Key and Key Biscayne, making it a critical traffic point and access area.
Given the importance of the causeway to the entire Miami Dade County region, the NMMA and the city of Miami used the traffic study as a foundation for developing a traffic plan that minimizes the boat show’s impact during its five-day run. That plan 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.
The Miami boat show and the Yacht & Brokerage Show in Miami Beach run concurrently. The Yacht & Brokerage Show is owned by the Florida Yacht Brokers Association and produced by Show Management. (Show Management and Soundings Trade Only are part of Active Interest Media’s Marine Group.)
Rick-Joule says NMMA will provide water taxi service from the Miami Beach Marina to and from the Miami Marine Stadium Park and Basin. The Yacht & Brokerage show will provide shuttle bus service between its Collins Avenue site and Miami Beach Marina.
Visitors traveling between the shows on the same day could also take a taxi from Collins Avenue to the marina, but there is no parking available on that site, she says.
Hotels and parking
To complement boat show lodging and parking — more than 10,000 spaces secured in downtown Miami — 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. (That’s nearly double the number at the convention center.)
VIP parking will be available on Virginia Key, with private car or shuttle service to the entrance and VIP valet parking within the show site.
Rick-Joule says the NMMA has contracted with 29 hotels and has blocked 2,043 rooms, compared with 646 for 2015. The plan includes free water taxi and shuttle bus rides for attendees — each will be able to transport roughly 25,000 visitors a day, Rick-Joule says. There will be several drop-off points throughout Miami and 15- to 20-minute rides, depending on the departure locations.
“Downtown Miami is much closer to the Miami Marine Stadium than Miami Beach,” Rick-Joule says, making shuttle and water taxi rides more convenient to downtown hotels. “People should be really into getting their reservations. We had improvement in the number of hotels and rooms in our block. Each hotel has access either on the property, or it’s a maximum of a block walk to a water taxi or shuttle. So if they want to take advantage of that free transportation, they should get hotels blocked and confirmed as soon as they can.”
The boat show is a “multimillion-dollar venture; there is no dispute on that,” says Regalado. “No one can dispute that this is an economic engine. The NMMA has blocked hundreds of room nights in hotels in Brickell and downtown. That in itself is a big deal for the city of Miami.”
The boat show is facing opposition from a neighboring village about its move to the new venue, but that wasn’t deterring exhibitors and visitors eight months out. As of early July, 25 percent of the hotel rooms blocked had been booked, and there was a 203 percent increase in the number of hotel rooms blocked for the 2016 show. The number of room nights available in the boat show’s room block was 10,141 — triple the 3,300 room nights made available for the 2015 show.
The enthusiasm wasn’t just apparent in the number of exhibitors and hotel rooms booked. It could also be heard from companies that were looking forward to displaying at a new venue.
“Mercury’s booth space at the 2016 Miami International Boat Show is the same as we’ve had in years past, and we’re excited about the opportunities it will provide,” says Fleming. “This will allow us to maintain our strong presence and visual appearance and will allow us to work more closely with consumers visiting our booth and our on-water boats. We anticipate a great show in 2016 and couldn’t be more excited about the opportunities.”
One of the main things discussed was the ability to do sea trials at the new location. “We’re always eager to help our customers experience Mercury products by taking them out on the water,” says Fleming. “Some products, especially boat engines, have to be experienced to be truly appreciated.”
Intrepid Powerboats will have a large in-water display for the new show, says company president Ken Clinton. “Unlike the convention center, where all the boats are sitting on cradles, you can actually see the boats in their own environment — literally,” he says.
The industry’s first reaction to moving the show was a bit of nervousness, Clinton admits. “We are all creatures of habit and … I think it probably affects us more than most manufacturers because most other builders have dealers with inventory that customers can go view at any time, and we do not.”
Consequently, the Miami and Fort Lauderdale shows are crucial, he says, with Miami accounting for about a third of the boats the company sells annually.
“Then once you get past the original nervousness of going into the unknown, you get excited,” Clinton says. “This is an opportunity to make it better. There is an old saying that I often use here at Intrepid that can be used in this case, and it is, ‘The only constant in life is change,’ and if done properly, change is good. I know that the staff over at the NMMA has been working very hard to ensure that this is a success for everyone involved, not just the builders or the vendors but for all of the consumers, as well. To say that this task for the NMMA staff is herculean would be an understatement, but they are more than up to the task. I look forward to the change, and I embrace it. It is going to be a great show.”
Sabre and Back Cove vice president Bentley Collins says the new venue will be perfect for boats between 37 and 48 feet, a size range he believes hadn’t been catered to until now. As of press time, the Back Cove 37 and 41 and the Sabre 42 and 48 had been confirmed for the NMMA show. “They’re not just in the water. They’re sea trial-able. That’s the key,” Collins says. “With customers that come from far-off places, if they decide they want to do a sea trial before they go home, we can actually do a sea trial. We don’t have to make additional arrangements for that.
“The NMMA has tried for years to serve the inboard market from 30 to 60 feet, but so many are smaller indoor shows … where you just can’t put those boats in the shows,” he adds. “Even at the Miami Beach Convention Center, it’s really tough and very expensive to put big boats in. So the NMMA has come back and said we really need to address that group because some are big members.”
This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue.