Art Basel is discussing a potential ten-year commitment to its Convention Center location in Miami Beach. Currently, the art fair is on a year-to-year lease. The importance of the annual December event was underscored yesterday when City Commissioners approved funding to design an additional escalator/elevator connection from exhibit halls to the new grand ballroom as part of major renovations now underway at the Convention Center.
Commissioners approved design revisions of approximately $124,000 and set aside an additional $2.875 million for construction, however, they emphasized they would only approve construction monies once an agreement for a long-term lease was signed committing Art Basel to the Center.
During construction some 2-hall shows have taken place. The City, again in a nod to the importance of Art Basel, scheduled construction to accommodate the 4-hall needs of the fair in 2016 and 2017. Upon seeing the progress of construction, Art Basel asked for this addition after its show in December.
“As part of this request, Art Basel has indicated a desire to enter into a long-term lease agreement with the City,” Maria Hernandez, project director for the Convention Center renovations, told Commissioners.
City Manager Jimmy Morales said, “[When] Noah Horowitz came in as the new director locally, he recognized the opportunity for the show to grow in light of the development plans of the building.” He acknowledged that the elevator/escalator connection between the exhibit floor and the upstairs ballroom is unusual but said it is something that Art Basel views as “critical to the long-term commitment to this building.” He added, “It’s very similar to their building in Basel so it’s something they’re used to, but it’s not a concept you see in other buildings in [this] country.” However, he said, “I recommend it to you because I do know the impact they have and that long-term commitment I think, particularly, in the current economy where hospitality, tourism, travel – where everything is up in the air – to have that long-term anchor would be very, very good.”
“They have proffered the notion of perhaps a ten-year commitment to the building if we’re willing to move forward on this,” he said.
Commissioner John Alemán said, “Right now, we’re on a one year commitment with Art Basel so to be able to get a ten year commitment is a pretty big deal and definitely a great value to the City. But I want to make sure that commitment is tied in before we spend the construction money.” Commissioner Micky Steinberg agreed and suggested there might be some type of cost sharing in the construction.
“I think it’s a win-win,” said Commissioner Joy Malakoff. “They bring so many millions of dollars to the City that it is a win-win because if they sign a long-term lease it is worth putting in an elevator and escalator and I think it could be useful for other shows as well.”
Morales emphasized the funding for the construction would come from Convention Development Tax dollars, which cannot be used for anything other than the Convention Center “so this is not impacting any other project in the city.”
Regarding a lease agreement, Morales said, “This conversation has occurred at 10,000 feet and now we’re starting to draft term sheets.” Among the issues under negotiation are the rate structure and use of additional facilities. “Not only is it the [escalator] connection to the upstairs ballroom but, remember, we now are going to have the Fisher Clubhouse which becomes an area that is programmable,” Morales said. “We have the upstairs little ballroom [which] also is new space that is programmable. All that will be part of a campus that they view as an opportunity to grow into.”
Hernandez said Staff will seek Commission approval to proceed with construction upon finalization of an agreement with Art Basel. “To avoid delays, approval of construction can be no later than the July 26th Commission meeting,” she said. The elevator/escalator connection will not be in service until 2018.
Image: Miami Beach Convention Center