Miami, and more specifically Miami Beach, aren’t known for doing things small and subtle as the South Florida culture tends to prefer large and loud.
Enter the Miami Beach Convention Center (MBCC), which re-opened this past Fall following a $620 million renovation. The “new” convention center’s large and loud design and architecture pays homage to Miami Beach’s Art Deco and to its ocean side location, particularly the latter thanks to more than 500 giant fins of aluminum and glass that are designed to simulate an ocean wave.
It’s expected to generate hundreds of millions of dollars for South Florida, including its resort and boutique hotels in Miami, Miami Beach, South Beach and beyond.
“It’s all about that big partnership,” said general manager Freddie Peterson, who spent 20 years as part of the leadership team at the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority before taking the helm at the MBCC last year. “We’re looking at this (MBCC) as a jewel box. We have opened it but we haven’t even scratched the surface in regards to the economic impact. Think about what it means to the Miami International Airport and the jobs created. This is a big piece of fuel that will drive dollars into our community.
“You think about the tourism side, but you also think about the arts and diversity offerings. There is glitz and glamour. As we mature the product more, we’ll fold all of that into the venue,” he noted.
The original MBCC, which opened in 1958 at a price of $4 million, has always been a big part of the South Florida scene and its reputation extends beyond that . For example, it’s the venue where, on Feb. 25, 1964, young Cassius Clay – not yet Muhammad Ali – defeated Sonny Liston for boxing’s heavyweight championship.
In addition, in 1972 the MBCC hosted the Republican and Democrat national conventions, which was also the last time each party convention took place in the same city in the same year. This “new” MBCC, however, is light years beyond the days of the “Greatest of All Time,” Richard Nixon and George McGovern.
This MBCC features nearly 1.4 million square feet of meeting space; four exhibit halls totaling nearly 500,000 square feet; a 91,000 square foot Grand Lobby; and 98,495 square-foot Grand Ballroom; and $7.1 million dollars’ worth of art curated by the City of Miami Beach Art in Public Places program.
The Grand Ballroom is equipped with surrounded acoustical panels to heighten sound quality, LED lighting, and features artwork installed by Miami Beach’s Art In Public Places: “Atlantis” by Ellen Harvey, depicting hand-painted satellite map imagery etched into glass panels, contrasting the Everglades and Miami Beach.
There also is approximately 1,610 miles of fiber optic cabling and 480 miles of copper wiring to support all IT communications and redundancy in data transfer. It is equipped with up to 400 Bluetooth enabled beacons to support the venue’s wayfinding app.
“The City of Miami Beach put a huge investment into the back of the house on the technology side,” said Peterson. “It’s been my experience that if you don’t commit to the back of the house, it doesn’t matter what the front is like. Redundancy is key. We have great data connectivity for big tech events.”
The MBCC is “a big space,” said Peterson, “but when you fill the space, it makes everything very comfortable. It’s not a big box. It’s all in what our customers want to create. It’s a blank canvas. They can draw on it however they like and engage their customers.”
Not a “big box” is an understatement. The MBCC actually is the centerpiece of a 52-acre campus in the heart of Miami Beach. Located within walking distance of the Lincoln Road shopping and dining district, and near the Bass Museum of Art and Miami Beach Golf Club, the MBCC campus includes a six-acre public park; Collins Canal Park, a 3.1 acre green space that also serves as outdoor event space; The Fillmore Miami Beach at The Jackie Gleason Theater; the Miami Beach Botanical Gardens; and New World Symphony and Soundscape Park.
The campus also includes the Carl Fisher Clubhouse, a historical landmark with almost 5,000 square feet of event space that is also undergoing a $2.5 million renovation.
In addition, an 800-room hotel is scheduled to open on the campus open early in 2023.
“We don’t want to just contain our customers inside the venue, but create things for them outside,” said Peterson. “The convention center is the center of gravity (for the campus) and comes with big expectations attached to it.”