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BY ANDRES VIGLUCCI
The developers planning a mammoth convention center and hotel in downtown Miami delivered a bit of a surprise when they unveiled their final design: Gone was the arresting, curving four-legged hotel tower of the initial concept, replaced by a pair of simpler, stand-alone skyscrapers.
The split, which allows the $750 million complex — a piece of the broader Miami WorldCenter megaproject — to be done in two phases, still strives for architectural panache. In the new renderings, supports for the main, glass-enclosed tower sweep upwards in a giant “J” shape from a stacked podium containing the convention center. The project will occupy the site of the old Miami Arena.
The convention complex developers, MDM Group, announced in March that they were revising the original design, which explicitly aimed for “iconic” status, by splitting it into two phases and two towers, in part to nail down financing and start construction quickly.
The detailed plan that went to the city’s Urban Design Review Board last week, though, represent a substantial reconception that, while perhaps not as architecturally ambitious as its predecessor, answers to pragmatic concerns and will result in a better project from an urban standpoint, according to its architects at Nichols Brosch Wurst Wulf & Associates.
The board last week gave the new design what business newspaper Miami Today called in a headline “grudging support.” Some of the architects on the panel, which makes recommendations to Miami’s planning director, expressed disappointment over the replacement of the sweeping initial design design with more-conventional towers.
But Nichols Brosch partner Igor Reyes said in an interview Monday that the unified tower design proved too “dominant” and also put lobbies up on a 12th floor, resulting in a monolithic design, especially at the all-important sidewalk level.
Breaking up the complex into two pieces, Reyes said, allowed the architects to “lighten up” the design, expand sidewalks and bring hotel lobbies and entrances to the ground to encourage pedestrian life, a key goal of city planners looking to populate what’s long been a desolate stretch of downtown.
“We got a lot of air, a lot of light in there,” Reyes said of the two-tower scheme. “It makes the project feel less imposing. We feel actually this building is going to contribute more to the neighborhood.”
City leaders hope the convention center will help cement a transformation of downtown Miami already under way.
It will sit between two major projects: The giant mixed-use station complex now under construction immediately to the west for the Brightline train service to Orlando, and to the east the retail and residential components of Miami WorldCenter, which are being developed separately. Crews for the WorldCenter’s Paramount condo did an immense concrete pour for the tower’s foundations last weekend.
The first phase of the convention and hotel complex, which MDM said will start construction in the spring, consists of 600,000 square feet of conference and exhibition space and a tower with 1,100 Marriott hotel rooms. The second tower, which the developers hope to start soon after the first phase, would contain 600 rooms. That’s a reduction of 100 rooms from the original plan.
The new design also seeks to capitalize on surrounding urban vistas. The convention center ballrooms boast large windows with views of downtown Miami. The second tower’s lobby, meanwhile, will directly face the lobby of one of MiamiCentral’s three towers across the street, Reyes said.
Though the convention complex will be mostly privately financed, MDM is also seeking up to $115 million in tax rebates from the city community redevelopment agency for Overtown and Park West in exchange for wage and hiring guarantees.