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New Miami show site faces obstacles after 2016

Miami officials moved a step closer last week to bringing the Miami International Boat Show to the Marine Stadium next February, although some said they would consider walking away from the event in future years if the arrangement does not work out.

Facing a construction deadline and the potential loss of $3 million, Miami officials tried Thursday to preserve efforts to host the boat show on Virginia Key and restore the historic stadium.

By a 4-0 vote, commissioners gave boat show operator the National Marine Manufacturers Association about a three-month extension to set up and break down on the stadium grounds, where the massive trade event will be held during Presidents Day weekend in 2016 because of a move out of the Miami Beach Convention Center.

They also accepted $1.6 million from the NMMA to cover the costs of upgrades beyond the $16 million the city is already spending to create a paved, utility-lined outdoor event space that can facilitate the show’s main event. Together, those actions could be interpreted as a deeper commitment between the city and boat show, which is operating on a year-to-year agreement.

But several commissioners also indicated Thursday that they’d be willing to walk away from the event after one year if it doesn’t work out and demanded that the city convert the 7-acre, asphalt-covered event space into turf-lined playing fields by mid-March.

“I’m not going to commit beyond a year” to the boat show, commissioner Francis Suarez told the Miami Herald.

The juggling act at Miami City Hall on Thursday was attributable, in part, to dueling pressures the city is facing to come up with a plan for stadium renovations and avoid potentially costly litigation with the village of Key Biscayne. Village officials believe Miami is going to lure a host of high-grossing, causeway-clogging events to its new $16 million facility and they filed a lawsuit in February seeking to stop the project.

The village’s concerns and lawsuit were on commissioners’ minds as they voted Thursday, with Suarez questioning how they’d react to having three months of boat show set-up and break-down to go along with the event itself. Commissioners also agreed Thursday that a $3 million county grant for stadium renovations would be used only on the stadium. The city was supposed to come up with a plan to spend the grant by April 6, and area County Commissioner Xavier Suarez, the father of Francis Suarez, said he’d support a four-month extension on the condition that the money not be used on the event space.

Reached Wednesday, Key Biscayne Mayor Mayra Peña Lindsay said the village supports renovations of the stadium, but the city’s inability to come up with a solid plan is a problem.

A broader, comprehensive plan to renovate the stadium should be presented to Miami commissioners May 14, according to Deputy City Manager Alice Bravo. She said the city is looking at some combination of bond financing, private investment and philanthropic donations. The hiring of a stadium operator should be part of that deal, she said.