The village of Key Biscayne hired a public relations firm in March to help “shape public opinion” about the Miami International Boat Show’s plan to relocate to the Miami Marine Stadium Park and Basin — the same firm that also handled public relations to secure the newly named Miami Tennis Open, a 14-day event that draws more than 300,000 spectators to Key Biscayne each year — more than three times the visitors to last year’s boat show.
Key Biscayne council members voted unanimously at a special meeting on March 19 to retain Miami-based Schwartz Media Strategies, according to public government documents.
At the meeting, Schwartz Media Strategies partner Aaron Gordon discussed how the group would shape public opinion about the show, according to a Miami Herald article.
“The campaign plans to strengthen the village’s brand as a desirable place to live and shape public opinion about some of the issues confronting the village, including the lawsuit and bicycle safety,” stated the Miami Herald article, which is behind a paywall.
The firm launched an aggressive media campaign in 2012 to rally village support for keeping the tennis tournament, then newly renamed as Sony Open Tennis, in its Key Biscayne location on a long-term basis by touting the economic benefits, the global appeal and its role in “shaping Miami’s global brand.”
“We are storytellers,” Schwartz Media Strategies says on its website, “brand creators, conversation starters and people connectors.”
The firm’s fee for the village is $8,000 a month, renewable on a quarterly basis, according to minutes from the meeting obtained by Trade Only.
Traffic has been a major concern reiterated by opponents to the boat show, though the tennis event, scheduled for March 21-April 3 in 2016, draws more than 300,000 visitors to Crandon Park Tennis Center on Key Biscayne, according to the South Florida Business Journal. This year the Miami International Boat Show drew just over 96,000 attendees.
The 2016 boat show is slated for Feb. 11-15, overlapping with the Coconut Grove Arts Festival, set for Feb. 13-15. However, the two events combined attract almost a third fewer visitors total than the tennis tournament, with the art festival drawing an estimated 120,000 guests.
There is no option for water taxi transport to the tennis tournament listed on the Open's website, nor was it listed as an option in a notice by Key Biscayne warning residents of increased traffic during the tournament’s two-week duration.
The National Marine Manufacturers Association, the group that owns and operates the Miami boat show, says it will be able to accommodate as many as 25,000 visitors each day of the five-day boat show — which is more people than attend, on average, per day — with free water taxis for attendees. Visitors will also be able to arrive via personal boat, dock at the show and take a dedicated service to the venue.
Schwartz Media Strategies details on its website how it was able to galvanize support for a ballot measure that secured the tennis event on a long-term basis to the Key Biscayne venue, saying it played up the $386 million economic impact of the tennis tournament.
Boat show organizers estimate the economic impact of the boat show to be nearly twice that at $600 million, supporting nearly 55,000 jobs and generating $32 million in sales tax revenue.
“Convincing two-thirds of the voting public to agree on anything is no easy task,” says Schwartz Media's website. “Doing so in a diverse, multilingual community like Miami — one where only a fraction of residents actually attend the [tennis] tournament each year — is even more of a challenge.”
The group said it drove the conversation surrounding the vote with “targeted storylines focused on the tournament’s economic impact, its role in shaping Miami’s global brand, and its popularity in countries outside the U.S.”
“The campaign utilized favorable op-eds and letters to the editor from community leaders, hitting every major consumer daily multiple times,” it says.
Plans to move the boat show to the defunct Miami Marine Stadium Park and Basin on the Virginia Key in 2016 have been tinged with controversy. The stadium itself — considered an architectural landmark — has been vacant since Hurricane Andrew tore through it in 1992, when it was declared unsafe. The boat show would not rehab the stadium itself, but the city of Miami, which has jurisdiction over the area, has committed $16 million to rejuvenate the park and prepare it for the 2016 show.
The Miami Marine Stadium Park and Basin are on Virginia Key, which is situated between the mainland and Key Biscayne. The Rickenbacker Causeway connects the three.
Key Biscayne Mayor Mayra Lindsay has not yet responded to Trade Only's email request for comment, which was sent Tuesday.
The NMMA has continued letting exhibitors know that plans to hold the boat show at the marine park and basin are moving forward, despite reports about Key Biscayne filing lawsuits to stop the show move.
In a letter sent privately to exhibitors this month, NMMA president Thom Dammrich said he wanted to “correct the misinformation and misinterpretations that are being broadcast as a result of the high-profile and political nature of our move to the Miami Marine Stadium Park.”
Dammrich was joined by NMMA members and Miami officials on May 21 during a conference call, followed by an extensive Q&A session, to answer questions in an effort to remain transparent to exhibitors, according to the association. The NMMA also said it was available to answer any questions that arise from stakeholders along the way.