Plans to move the Miami International Boat Show to Miami Marine Stadium Park and Basin next year continue to face legal, political and logistical hurdles, but organizers and Miami’s mayor remain resolute in their message that the show will take place at the venue in February.
In late April, the village of Key Biscayne filed suit in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court over plans to move the show to the stadium park, alleging that the NMMA has refused to share public plans and records with the village. The complaint asks the court to void an agreement between the city of Miami and the NMMA to hold the boat show at the venue. “The village has requested that NMMA produce public records related to the license agreement, but NMMA has expressly refused to do so,” the complaint reads.
The situation has prompted NMMA president Thom Dammrich to write a private letter to exhibitors, reiterating that the show will transition to the marine stadium park while the Miami Beach Convention Center — where the show has been held until now — undergoes extensive renovations.
Dammrich tells exhibitors in the letter that the NMMA is “committed to not letting political agendas threaten the 55,000 boating industry jobs that the boat show supports, the $600 million economic impact the boat show delivers for South Florida or the $32 million in sales tax revenue generated by sales at the Miami International Boat Show.”
“It is important to me that you hear the truth, directly from NMMA,” Dammrich writes in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Soundings Trade Only. “On Thursday, April 23, we learned that the village of Key Biscayne filed a lawsuit against NMMA, alleging that we violated Florida’s open government public records law by withholding documents from the city of Key Biscayne … in relation to a licensing agreement with the city of Miami. You should know that NMMA is responding to the claims in the lawsuit, which we believe are completely unfounded.
“Not surprisingly, an endeavor of this magnitude, on a coveted piece of land in the heart of Miami, is creating significant political and media interest,” he wrote.
Miami mayor Tomás Regalado issued an April 30 statement reiterating the city’s intention to hold the show at the stadium park despite the lawsuit. “The city of Miami is invested in the boat show and its future,” Regalado said. “There is no better location … and no better partner for our city than NMMA to ensuring a smooth and successful boat show. Whether it’s the $600 million annual economic impact, the more than 55,000 jobs or the fact that Miami residents live and breathe boating, the show’s contribution to our city is significant.”
The lawsuit was followed by news that the Army Corps of Engineers sent a flag up during the permitting process, saying mitigation measures will be needed to offset the negative environmental effects of temporary docking in the basin for 90 days.
“The proposal would impact approximately 55.45 acres of submerged aquatic bay bottom utilized by various life stages of marine species,” according to the agency’s statement. “Our initial determination is that the proposed action would have a substantial adverse impact on [essential fish habitat] or federal managed fisheries in the Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve.”
That turn of events set off another round of news coverage, but boat show organizers say the most recent Corps of Engineers request is a typical component of every permitting process for boat shows.
“This is no different than any other permitting process,” says NMMA spokeswoman Ellen Hopkins. “We always comply when an issue arises. This is a standard regulatory process and no different than any other permit we apply for. When something is noted as harmful or not in the best interest of all parties, we do what the regulators will guide us as to their requirements, and we will do what we need to do to comply, like we always do.
“This is … a result of Key Biscayne’s political agenda, and we’re stuck in the middle,” Hopkins says.
The permit and statement indicated that the mitigation would be necessary to offset the docks’ “shading impact” over the maximum time frame of 90 days. The 90-day period is part of a move-in and move-out extension that Miami City Council members recently approved unanimously for one year only. The public notice the Corps of Engineers issued was “based on information furnished by the applicant,” or the NMMA.
“These are boaters and boat manufacturers who depend on the health of the marine environment,” says Hopkins. “Nobody wants to protect that resource more than they do. It’s their livelihoods.”
Key Biscayne Mayor Mayra Pena Lindsay has told local publications that she has concerns about the traffic the boat show would bring, but also expressed fears that the city would try to bring other large, traffic-snarling events to the venue.
“The city’s plans to bring money-making events to the marine stadium site are logistically impossible, financially irresponsible and simply incompatible with the property’s allowable use,” she told GlobeSt.com. “The boat show is signed on as a major tenant, but making the financials of the development work will require many more events each year, and that will lead to an onslaught of traffic,” she said.
Miami city officials have not said they intend to bring additional events to the venue. Regarding traffic concerns, the NMMA released details of traffic mitigation efforts it is taking.
“NMMA, in conjunction with the city of Miami, has constructed comprehensive parking and transportation plans spanning water taxis, shuttles, public transportation access, VIP and valet parking, and abundant public parking options, all strategically placed throughout Miami and on Virginia Key,” the statement reads.
As part of the boat show’s transportation efforts, Miami has hired a third-party consultant, Kimley Horn, to conduct a traffic study to gain a better understanding of the most efficient and effective means of getting vehicles on and off Rickenbacker Causeway while keeping traffic flowing at all major intersections leading to the causeway.
“We don’t want there to be traffic concerns, either,” says Hopkins. “That’s why we are making such an effort with the water taxis, which can bring 25,000 people to the boat show each day, not to mention we’ll actually have more parking on Virginia Key than we did in Miami Beach. The transportation study we did was during the Coconut Grove Arts Festival, when traffic is crazy, and we had timed the stoplights to the point that every car got through, so nobody was sitting at the light twice.”
Rebuilt in 1985 using taxpayer dollars, the Rickenbacker Causeway provides public access to Virginia Key and Key Biscayne. It also is the primary thoroughfare connecting Miami with both Virginia Key and Key Biscayne, making it a critical traffic point and access area.
The NMMA and Miami used the traffic study as a foundation for developing a traffic plan that minimizes the impact of the boat show’s five-day run.
“The traffic plan, coupled with the parking and transportation plans, creates one of the most efficient transportation efforts in the boat show’s 74-year history,” the NMMA says. “As a result, the boat show is poised to deliver minimal interruption and little to no congestion, especially as it relates to getting on and off the Rickenbacker Causeway.”
A bumpy road
The path to moving the event has been fraught with complications and detours. The original deal crumbled in November after a public announcement with Friends of Miami Marine Stadium spokeswoman Gloria Estafan. After a separate deal was reached, Key Biscayne officials in February threatened to sue Miami over the new plan — apparently over fears that the city will attempt to bring a slew of large events to the stadium, in addition to the boat show — but entered into mediation talks in March.
Plans continued to move forward at a meeting in April, with commissioners unanimously approving the 90-day extension for the NMMA to move in and out of the venue and the NMMA agreeing to contribute $1.6 million to infrastructure improvements.
“I’ve made statements in the press recently that we are confident that the show you trust us to produce will move forward as planned, and that the Miami International Boat Show remains committed to being a good neighbor to Key Biscayne,” Dammrich says in the letter to exhibitors. “I’ve made these statements because they are true.”
This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue.