The Miami Beach Convention Center
The Miami Beach Convention Center (J. Albert Diaz)

Acting at a significantly faster pace than experts expected, the Miami Beach City Commission hit the reset button Wednesday on the massive $1 billion Miami Beach Convention Center project.

In a voice vote, new Mayor Phillip Levine and others city commissioners canceled a round of bidding that awarded the convention center redevelopment bid to the South Beach ACE joint venture in July.

The winner of a competitive process had been commissioned to refurbish the convention center, develop new space for retail and commercial use, and build a large convention-focused hotel on site.

South Beach ACE is led by Rem Koolhaas’ Office for Metropolitan Architecture, Miami Beach developer Robert Wennett and New York developer Dan Tishman.

Instead of going forward with that plan, the city will float a new request contemplating only the convention center renovation. A separate process will be undertaken to determine where a convention-focused hotel could be built in the city—on city-owned land next to the convention center or elsewhere in Miami Beach.

City planners plans to announce possible hotel sites by April, Levine said.

At the meeting, City Commissioner Deedee Weithorn dubbed the new path for developing the convention center and hotel “decoupled-concurrent processes.”

That path is similar to one suggested in a memorandum dated Wednesday, though widely circulated last week, in which the mayor asked to scrap the existing redevelopment plan to be scrapped.

Retail In Limbo

It’s not clear if the new plan will allow for the development of the retail component near the remodeled center, an important part of the original plan. The mayor’s memorandum made it clear he wanted to drop retail. But one commissioner pushed for a retail segment.

“I think there’s these fancy stores that are going on in other neighborhoods that are not great neighborhoods,” Commissioner Edward Tobin said before the vote, in an indirect reference to developer Craig Robins’ retail plans for Miami’s Design District. “I know that Fendi and LVMH would love to be here.”

The City Commission move was considerably more abrupt than expected.

At a meeting of the Miami Beach Visitor & Convention Authority on Tuesday, members of the advisory board, whose mission is to promote events, festivals, programs and activities in the city, judged it unlikely the City Commission would act on the matter this week. The preliminary commission agenda allotted 15 minutes to discussion of the convention center.

“With 15 minutes to discuss, there’s not going to be a lot of opinionating,” Aaron Perry, an authority board member, said Tuesday.

The City Commission discussion lasted for more than 35 minutes.

Under of a voter initiative approved in November, the South Beach ACE bid likely would have been subject to a new once plans were finalized. Redevelopment of the convention center alone would not be subject to a referendum, although the sale or lease of public land for the hotel would.

Levine said he was more willing to accept the political risk that voters might delay a hotel.

“If we don’t decouple the [convention center and hotel], my fear is that this will have to go to referendum,” he said. “We may still be having the conversation at the end of my term, maybe with no new convention center.”

Lawsuit Threat

A wildcard in the process now is whether or not South Beach ACE will sue the city for striking its winning bid for a 52-acre project. In a letter dated Tuesday, the company’s attorney noted Levine’s plan, if adopted, would “clearly circumvent the exclusivity provision in the letter of intent accepted by the city and the contractual obligation that the city has to proceed in good faith with SBACE.”

While the city was justifying its right to nix its original decision, attorney Albert E. Dotson Jr. of Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod in Miami, wrote the mayor that such an excuse was “nothing more than a smokescreen to mask the city’s true intent.”

An earlier letter by South Beach ACE said the company was “shocked and disappointed” at the mayor’s plan and peeved that it had not been kept in the loop by Levine. A representative of South Beach ACE noted late Wednesday that there still has been no communication between that company and the mayor.

“If they change the whole deal, if they knock out the hotel, they’re going to have a lawsuit,” former Miami Beach Mayor Harold Rosen noted before the vote.

Despite likely complications, Levine sounded a triumphant note during the discussion, suggesting the project would be successful in the end.

“We’re not Atlanta. We’re not Orlando. We’re Miami Beach. People are coming here,” he said.