Miami Heat

Miami Heat

The heat has been turned up in Miami. Two final teams—South Beach ACE and Portman-CMC—are going head to head, sparing no harsh words, in a battle to win the commission to revamp the outdated Miami Beach Convention Center and redevelop the surrounding 52-acres.

On May 14, the teams—Rem Koolhaas’ OMA and developer Tishman Hotel & Realty on South Beach ACE, and Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and developer Portman Holdings on the Portman-CMC team—presented their final master plans at a community meeting. With the Miami Beach Commission expected to vote on a proposal on July 8, the two camps are exchanging blows and making a final push to promote their proposals to the public.


The convention center, which was originally built in 1957, is wedged between busy avenues and several civic and cultural institutions. Many say that the facility acts like a roadblock, awkwardly severing Miami Beach. In addition, the aging building is struggling to meet the needs of such growing events as Miami Basel and the Miami Boat Show.

In 2012, the city issued a request for qualifications (RFQ), seeking submissions from development teams to overhaul the convention center. The RFQ called for a redesign of the existing structure as well as the improvement of access and pedestrian crossings. Two months later, the city received eight proposals, which it eventually whittled down to the two finalists. During a six-month period, South Beach ACE and Portman-CMC presented their plans to the public and the city several times, listened to feedback, and then tweaked their proposals accordingly.

“I am looking for the developer who is going to give us the most of what we need,” said City Commissioner Jerry Libbin. “I am looking to get as close to the base case: the ballroom and whatever associated parking we need. My preference is that we pick someone sooner than later.”

The program calls for a mix of high-end and functional components, including a new hotel, ample green space, an updated convention center with additional ballroom and meeting space, and increased connectivity to the surrounding areas of Miami Beach. The two teams have taken relatively different approaches.


OMA’s proposal focuses on creating a centralized facility that allows for plenty of open space. It also reconfigures the layout of the convention center to enhance connectivity to Lincoln Road, green space, and existing hotels on the beach through the introduction of new entrance points on the south side and Washington Avenue.

“We wanted to expand the convention center without taking up more space within the city, so one of the key elements of our design is that we stack the hotel and ballroom,” said Jason Long, associate architect at OMA. “We integrated the hotel to reduce the footprint of the building and leave some breathing room for open space and as a buffer between the convention center and the Jackie Gleason Theater and new cultural building to the south.”

Kai-Uwe Bergmann, partner and director of business development at BIG, explained that his firm wanted to “provide a civic heart to the city.” The firm plans to accomplish this by creating Miami Beach Square, a public space that serves as a connecting hub to the convention center, hotel, city hall, and Jackie Gleason Theatre. “We really want to create a heart to this site and this is the Miami Beach Square opposed to a bunch of buildings with a park in it,” said Bergmann.


BIG also plans to carve out substantial space for the visual arts. The firm has included a new Latin American Cultural Museum in its proposal, in addition to space on the convention center’s roof for art installations that will be sponsored by an art foundation they plan to create.

“The developer is committing $25 million to the cultural programming of the facility. Our team is proposing three times more arts and cultural funding than our competitor,” said Bergmann. “The convention center is driven by art and design.”

Since the last public meeting, the two teams have exchanged some fighting words. Portman-CMC released a “Top 5 Reasons” document that outlines why their proposal is “the best plan for the City of Miami Beach and its competitors,” citing less cost for the public and a shorter construction timeframe.


“We are really very saddened that the team has to make a point to attack us. We have been very consistent about illustrating our strengths,” said Shohei Shigematsu, partner and director of the New York office of OMA. “Architects are not supposed to hate each other like this. I hope the decision won’t be based on these kinds of battles.”

Shortly after the publication of Portman-CMC’s press release, South Beach ACE came out with its own polemic, questioning the other team’s “lack of a consistent vision for Miami Beach.”

All trash-talking aside, commissioner Libbin said that when making his decision in July, he’ll be considering other factors. “I am definitely looking at the numbers and seeing which developer is more flexible with us.”