The Miami Beach Convention Center becomes a COVID haven

The wheels of commerce are continuing to turn, being reinvented in the process, amid a global health crisis at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Battered by cancellations and uncertainty since March, this economic artery has mostly served as an ongoing COVID-19 testing site, a reality that will continue through this week at least.

The work has been a net positive for the center, says General Manager Freddie Peterson. 

“This site fits in with our initiatives to repurpose the venue, such as helping the medical personnel and Florida National Guard servicemen and women with a space for administration, food and beverage and some shelter from the elements,” Mr. Peterson said.

Over the course of the pandemic, the venue has partnered with the City of Miami Beach and the Florida Department of Health to maintain an alternate care facility on the premises. Convention center spokeswoman Sabrina Anico said the state-brokered lease for testing ends Nov. 7. 

Workers have administered about 80,000 tests since opening, both by walk-in and drive-up methods, providing a necessary service to the public and revenue for the center. Still, said Ms. Anico, the pandemic has hurt the bottom line.

“Roughly speaking, we have lost 15 events, with the economic impact being ever more nuanced,” she said.      

When events do restart, Ms. Anico said, the center will have vigorous health measures in place to both protect attendees and give event planners the confidence that their gatherings will be safe. 

Maria Hernandez, who helps oversee the convention center district for the Miami Beach City Manager’s Office, noted the venue was given a STAR accreditation by the Global Biorisk Advisory Council in September.

“In addition to the revenue received from hosting the alternative care facility, the MBCC team is managing the impact of COVID-19 efficiently and productively by focusing on preparing the venue as a safe, responsible and flexible space,” she said.

This emphasis on safety and cleanliness shows the convention center’s management is doing the right thing in a challenging time, Ms. Hernandez said. 

“The MBCC sales team, together with the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, has an active sales and marketing strategy to increase occupancy and maximize revenue in this ever-changing environment,” she said.

For his part, Mr. Peterson said, the venue has worked up to its environmentally sound practices.

“MBCC also recently received LEED Silver Certification, deploying venue measures in an environmentally-friendly way, in support of generating business for the city,” he said.

Mr. Peterson acknowledged the pandemic has made things challenging, but said he and his team have worked on a number of creative solutions to help both the venue and surrounding businesses’ bottom lines. This includes offering the center as expansion space for local hotels, turning a ballroom into a live-stream arena, and using the surrounding green space for events.

“Multiple initiatives are in play to generate business at the Miami Beach Convention Center throughout the pandemic,” he said.

Andres Arias, born and raised in Miami, is currently majoring in journalism and pursuing a film studies certificate.  He is interested in pop culture and consumer technology and aspires to contribute to the body of public opinion as a critic.