by Jennifer Nicole Dienst | August 21, 2008

The Miami Beach Convention Center 
Management change:
The Miami Beach
Convention Center
In a controversial move, the Miami Beach City Commission voted 5-2 on July 16 to break ties with Philadelphia-based SMG, which has managed the Miami Beach Con-vention Center for 17 years, in favor of Philadelphia-based Global Spectrum, which is aligned with Switzerland-based Messe Schweiz.

Messe Schweiz, a Swiss exhibition firm that owns 30 trade and consumer shows, including the popular Art Basel Miami Beach, promised along with Global Spectrum to bring in more European shows, open a European sales office and erase the $1.5 million to $1.9 million loss that SMG projects for the center next year. However, the promises that lured commissioners are raising red flags for long-time center customers.

“We have concerns that Messe Schweiz will give their shows an unfair advantage and push out shows that have come to Miami for years,” said Steve Naylor, group operations director for Paramus, N.J.-based MFV Expositions and longtime customer of the Miami Beach Convention Center. “Anyone who produces shows would not be in favor of this partnership.”

Frank E. Russo Jr., senior vice president of business development and client relations for Global Spectrum, told M&C such concerns are “manufactured fears” and “will not happen.”

The commission’s decision came as a surprise, especially since its selection committee had previously voted 8 to 1 in favor of keeping SMG. “It’s a big shock,” Naylor said. “They do a phenomenal job.”

Gregg Caren, senior vice president of strategic business development for SMG, claimed that Global Spectrum made “disparaging comments” and “swayed the commission with extraordinary claims” during a two-hour presentation each side made before the commission voted.

In a video of the commission meeting posted on the city’s website, Russo is shown referring to SMG as “a Holiday Inn” compared to Global Spectrum, which he likened to “a Ritz-Carlton.”

Caren added that SMG had support from almost all of its major clients, including Experient and Microsoft, and Global Spectrum and Messe Schweiz “obviously want the [center] for their own benefit.”

As of press time, the contract between Global Spectrum and the Miami Beach Convention Center still was being negotiated and was slated for formal approval by the commission on Sept. 10. If successful, Global Spectrum will walk away with a three-year contract worth a base fee of $280,000 a year, to begin on Oct. 1.