I last visited Miami and its Beaches in 2013. At that time, developers were putting in bids to recreate the Miami Beach Convention Center. The 250,000-square-foot Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science was a construction site in Museum Park, the 30-acre park in the city’s downtown. The rejuvenation of the Design District had begun but was two years out from welcoming the major brands and retailers that have elevated it to a fashion and art destination. And, revitalization efforts were underway in the Brickell area, the city’s financial district. Miami was laying new foundations for future growth.
Fast forward five years. I am back in Miami on Visit Florida’s 2018 Meet the Sun Press Fam. The Miami Beach Convention Center has been reimagined and is welcoming meetings from around the world. The Frost Museum of Science is open. Condo and hotel developments in the city’s downtown, including the Brickell and Design District areas, are attracting a new generation of residents and travellers, and with them, new restaurants, bars, stores and entertainment venues. And, since 2013, Miami-Dade’s hotel inventory has grown by 8,000 rooms—a boom that’s continuing this year and into the foreseeable future.
For incentive travel planners, this growth adds up to a destination that’s worth visiting, or revisiting.
The Miami Beach Convention Center District
The opening of the new Miami Beach Convention Center (MBCC) was the city’s big MICE news in 2018. The $620 million LEED-certified renovation and expansion grew the original building by almost 300,000 square feet. Its ballrooms and meeting rooms increased 62,000 square feet. Seven new breakout rooms and a 369,000-square-foot roof top parking lot were also added.
With these additions, the MBCC now features a 60,000-square-foot grand ballroom; 500,000 square feet of exhibit space; 84 breakout rooms totalling 183,000 square feet; 20,000 square feet of specialty feet; 850 parking spaces; and six acres of green space.
Located in the South Beach district of Miami Beach, the convention center is the anchor of a 52-acre campus that also includes five attractions. The first of these attractions is a six-acre public park (Convention Center Park), the other four are available for group use. They are:
- the 2.6-acre Miami Beach Botanical Garden;
- The Fillmore Miami Beach at The Jackie Gleason Theater, a historic art-deco building;
- Carl Fisher Clubhouse, a historical landmark that will offer 5,000 square feet of event space when its $2.5 million-restoration is complete;
- and New World Center and Soundscape Park.
I didn’t see the New World Center and Soundscape Park on my visit in 2013 and am glad I had the opportunity to do so on this trip. Opened in 2011, it is both home to the New World Symphony and an innovative facility for musical education.
Renowned conductor Michael Tilson Thomas collaborated with equally-renowned architect Frank Gehry on the building’s design. The result is an architectural symphony of white walls, curved staircases and expansive glass walls overlooking the adjacent Soundscape Park.
Craig Hall, the Center’s vice-president of communications, explained that it was designed “as a lab for exploring the way music is taught, presented and experienced.” It can do the same for groups.
The Center’s Performance Hall, which seats 756 in the round, has eight robotic cameras and capabilities for webcasting and multi-camera presentations. It also has retractable seating, which opens the space to as many 1,200 guests, and is encircled by acoustic “sails” that double as projection surfaces. The atrium, which accommodates up to 300 for receptions (150 seated), has a bar which can be lit in a multitude of colours, a full glass exterior wall on the east side and interior white walls suitable for projections. The Suntrust Pavilion has meeting and performance space for 150 people. Ensemble rooms transform into breakout rooms. And the Rooftop Garden & Donor Lounge—literally the Center’s crowning glory—offers an amazing view of South Beach all the way out to the Atlantic Ocean.
Eat, Drink, Instagram
We experienced another venue with a view when we visited The Rusty Pelican, an iconic waterfront restaurant in Key Biscayne. Its meeting and function space received a $7 million upgrade and modernization in 2011. Able to accommodate groups ranging in size from 20 to 200, it has a convertible ballroom with its own terrace; a patio and interior bar with a combined capacity for 200; and a restaurant with retro-style furnishings. The patio, the terrace and the restaurant all offer a big, beautiful view of the Miami skyline.
On our last night in Miami, we dine at Red, the Steakhouse. The award-winning South Beach eatery not only serves up extra-tasty dishes—don’t miss the lobster mac ‘n cheese, or the arugula salad with prosciutto and Parmigiano Reggiano, or the ribeye steak, or Brad’s hot stuffed peppers—but also offers a range of team-building competitions. For example, Chillin’ & Grillin’ has groups trying to recreate one of the restaurant’s signature steak rubs and a signature cocktail. The Secret Ingredient Competition challenges teams to work together to recreate a dish using a special ingredient. And the Classic Bartender has groups adding unique twists to classic cocktails.
A highlight of the FAM was a visit to Loews Miami Beach Hotel. The 790-key property, which was the first new build in South Beach’s Art Deco District, celebrated its 20th anniversary last year with a $50-million renovation.
It has 65,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor function space that can accommodate groups of up to 2,700 people. The hotel’s second floor is home to the 6,720-square-foot Poinciana Ballroom and the 27,800-square-foot Americana Ballroom. The third floor has 12 meeting spaces ranging in size from a 369-square-foot boardroom for 16 to the Cowrie, a 3,780-square-foot space that can accommodate up to 250 people for receptions. Outdoor spaces include two lawns, the American Terrace, and Soak Cabana Deck.
Loews Miami Beach wasn’t the only South Beach property that got a refresh. The 357-room Cadillac Hotel & Beach Club underwent a multi-million-dollar reno and reopened in September as part of Marriott International’s Autograph Collection. Redesigned by NYC interior design firm Bill Rooney Studio, it features an aesthetic that combines Art Deco with that of the 1940s Italian and French Rivieras. And the historic Greystone Hotel Miami is nearing the end of a complete restoration undertaken by VOS Hospitality. The 92-key property, which will have 6,000 square feet of event space, is set to open early this year.
Miami-Dade also saw its fair share of new builds, adding more than 1,900 rooms to its inventory in 2018. One development direction of interest to incentive travel planners is the entry of more luxury hotel brands in non-beach neighbourhoods. For example, Sbe, the Los Angeles-based hospitality company, and its partners opened two properties: the 80-suite SLS Lux Brickell in the financial district, and the HYDE Hotel & Residences Midtown Miami, a 32-storey development that is home to 410 sold-out luxury condominiums and 60 hotel rooms near the Design District.
Similarly, the 22 properties slated to open in 2019 include a Mr. C Hotel from the Cipriani family in Coconut Grove and a 21c Museum Hotel in Midtown. The Mr. C Coconut Grove will have 100 rooms and suites and a top floor Starlight Ballroom. The 155-key 21c Museum Hotel will anchor a mixed-use cultural centre in the Design District, which will also house office space, retail and a 16,000-square-foot interactive garden.
Looking at 2020 and 2021, the GMCVB reports that there are a further 45 new hotel properties confirmed or in the planning phase. The big news is that one of those properties is a privately-funded 800-room convention headquarter hotel that will connect to the reimagined Miami Beach Convention Center. These developments will be reason to visit Miami once again.