Miami Beach Convention Center Receives TCO

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Miami Beach Convention Center Receives TCO:

Fire safety testing complete, special events permits no longer needed for events

Updated April 17 to include fire watch costs.

After months of delays in wrapping up construction, the Miami Beach Convention Center has finally received its Temporary Certificate of Occupancy (TCO). That is not an insignificant event… during construction when some events were held in finished areas and since its full reopening in December 2018, all events at the Convention Center have operated under Special Events permits which required additional life safety personnel on-site.

One of the key milestones in achieving the TCO was the testing of the building’s fire alarms which required a 30-day period in which the building was completely dark. The facility’s closure due to the coronavirus provided an opportunity to test the systems. The recent announcement by the Florida Department of Emergency Management and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that the Convention Center will be used as an alternate care facility, if needed, for COVID-19 forced the City to “accelerate” its testing schedule “to meet the deadlines set by DEM and the Corps,” City spokeswoman Melissa Berthier told us last week. The goal for completion of the temporary hospital set by Governor Ron DeSantis is April 20th. However, Berthier noted, "As the building’s occupancy permit is that of a convention center, we will still need to issue a special event permit for it to operate as an alternate care facility.”

The delays in finishing construction and obtaining TCO status is the subject of a legal battle between the City and contractor Clark Construction. In January, Clark filed suit claiming the City owes $90 million for completed work and blames the City for the delays due to “constant design changes.” Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy Morales at the time wrote in a letter to City Commissioners, “We are eager to demonstrate in Court that Clark’s misfeasance, inaction and delay has cost the city millions of dollars.” The Convention Center was expected to reach “substantial completion” and TCO status by August 23, 2018. 

Morales noted in his January letter that the lack of a TCO required “enhanced Fire Watch” at events which means “firefighters are stationed throughout the building to act in place of any life safety systems that have not yet received official approvals.” According to Berthier, the costs of the enhanced fire watch were borne by the City. A final Certificate of Occupancy will be issued once all "punch list" items are completed.

Berthier said the Fire Watch costs paid by the City averaged $31,000 monthly between January and December 2019. From January through March 2020, the average was "trending to $28,000 monthly." Post TCO, "Fire watches are at the discretion of the Fire Department and the cost would fall on the events," if additional safety measures were required, she added.

This was supposed to be a “breakout year” for the Convention Center with more than 50 events scheduled. So far, of the 13 events slated for the period between March 2 and May 15, five have cancelled representing “roughly about $2.6 million” in revenue for the Convention Center, according to General Manager Freddie Peterson. But that doesn’t take into account the impact to off-site venues such as the local restaurants and cultural institutions that would have benefited from the out of town visitors, he said.

When the Miami City Ballet gala was a last-minute cancellation as the pandemic first hit the area, the Convention Center’s food and beverage provider, Centerplate, donated the food to Food Rescue, a local group that feeds the homeless. Like the fire alarm testing, the Convention Center seems to be doing what it can to make the best of the situation.


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