For a destination that could coast a long time on its sunshine and sex appeal, Miami puts together a thoughtful, content-rich experience. A recent press trip hosted by the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau (GMCVB), for example, featured the funky event venues and gorgeous beachfront restaurants you’d expect — but it was actually built around an information-packed press conference at the Miami Beach Convention Center (MBCC) and the GMCVB’s own annual business meeting.
We started at our host hotel, the four-month-old Aloft South Beach, right on Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. Offering 235 guest rooms and more than 3,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting space, the boutique property is decorated in its brand’s casual-chic style, with a hangout-friendly lobby and pops of original artwork everywhere.
Dinner that night was at Aloft’s house restaurant, The Continental Miami, from Philadelphia restaurateur Stephen Starr, which blends cocktail couture with a loosely Asian-inspired menu. Our group opted to share plates, all of them delectable — including appetizers like tuna-tartare spring rolls, crispy artichoke, and, in a nod to Starr’s Philly roots, cheesesteak egg rolls; and entrees such as Korean fried chicken, Mediterranean-style branzino, lettuce wraps with Korean-barbecue skirt steak, and roasted heirloom carrots.
The next morning, we were off to the MBCC for a jubilant press conference announcing a project that’s been 10 years in the making: the $615-million renovation and expansion of the 57-year-old facility. Elected officials from Miami, Miami Beach, and Miami-Dade County all participated, taking turns at the podium filling in details of the LEED Silver–designated initiative, which will overhaul the MBCC’s “Miami Vice”–era look with a striking, sea-inspired glass façade; transform its parking lot into a 5.8-acre public park; add $6.5 million in public art to the building; and expand its meetings infrastructure to 505,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space, a 60,000-square-foot grand ballroom, three 20,000-square-foot junior ballrooms, and 59,000 square feet of breakout space.
Because of the project — which will break ground this month and is scheduled for completion in 2018 — the GMCVB will be better able to target meetings in a variety of sectors, including medical, pharmaceutical, biotech, financial, insurance, and more, according to President and CEO William Talbert III, CDME. “This is about meetings,” Talbert said. “Big meetings. Small meetings. Corporate meetings.”
For lunch, we went to Nikki Beach, a beach club, restaurant, and venue, where we sat outside under a giant white umbrella and enjoyed the steady breeze coming off the ocean. After spicy gazpacho, conch fritters, and fresh grouper tacos, we toured four special-event venues throughout the area: Palm Court, a 5,000-square-foot outdoor plaza ringed by high-end shops in the Miami Design District; just a block away, the Moore Building, a onetime furniture showroom whose four-story atrium is dominated by a stretched-taffy-looking sculpture called Elastika; The Temple House, a former Jewish synagogue with 25-foot ceilings that hosts everything from fashion shows and product launches to corporate dinners and video shoots; and 1111 Lincoln Road, a parking garage where the seventh level offers a 25,000-square-foot space with 20- to 30-foot ceilings and panoramic views of Miami Beach, the ocean, and Biscayne Bay.
Dinner was at Cibo Wine Bar in South Beach, an Italian restaurant with an expansive, vibrant dining room and impeccable rustic cuisine. Like the night before, we shared dishes family style: pizza di nicolino, with arugula and prosciutto; house-made gnocchi with tomato sauce and tagliatelle with Bolognese sauce; and another take on branzino.
On our final morning, we made a quick stop at the Miami Beach Women’s Club, a low, Mediterranean-style building with 3,500 square feet of indoor event space and 1,500 square feet outdoors. Then we returned to the MBCC for the GMCVB’s annual meeting. Centerplate, the MBCC’s caterer, prepared a networking lunch that reflected Miami’s location at the crossroads of the South, the ocean, and Latino culture: Florida stone crabs, arroz con pollo, conch fritters, and sweet plantains.
The annual meeting itself was more like a revival show, with a boisterous Talbert leading a standing-room-only crowd of more than 500 area meeting and hospitality professionals through the GMCVB’s many accomplishments over the previous year: 15.1 million overnight visitors with an economic impact of $25.1 billion, and 13.2 million room nights, all supporting 134,300 hospitality jobs. And, in addition to a fully overhauled MBCC, the GMCVB announced that the destination is planning on a new headquarters hotel for the convention center — an 800-room property with 95,000 square feet of meeting space that’s slated for public referendum in March.
“Remember,” Talbert told the audience, “your bureau did something, and something good happened.”
For more information: miamiandbeaches.com