Sunday, May 30, 2010

Miami Art Museum eligible to receive $100 million in public funds Read more:

Miami Art Museum eligible to receive $100 million in public funds

In another key step toward downtown's urban revival, the Miami Art Museum is eligible to receive $100 million in county bond proceeds, removing the biggest hurdle to start construction on the facility's long-sought new home in Miami.
MAM has ``met all the conditions'' for receipt of the public funds, Miami-Dade County Manager George Burgess wrote Friday. Most of the bond money, approved by voters in a 2004 referendum, has been withheld until museum officials first raised more than $30 million in private pledges to build the museum.
``This is the day we've been waiting for, this is a very exciting day for us,'' said Aaron Podhurst, MAM's chairman, who has led the effort over the past decade to win private and public funds to build the new facility.
There are details that must be ironed out, including getting approval from city leaders for $2 million to clear and remediate the 29-acre park that will include the art museum. And county commissioners can weigh in before bonds are sold to fund construction.
Nevertheless, Podhurst said groundbreaking is planned for this fall, with the art museum to be completed by the end of 2012.
Designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, the $200 million museum is to rise along Biscayne Bay in Miami's Bicentennial Park -- which will be renamed Museum Park and redesigned under the auspices of New York planning firm Cooper Robertson & Partners. The city park is also planned to house the new home for the Miami Science Museum, designed by London's Grimshaw Architects.
The $275 million science museum is not as far along. Construction is at least a year away, and museum officials have yet to show they've generated sufficient private pledges to be eligible for public funding.
The museums and park are viewed as essential components of Miami's city center renewal, providing another anchor to an area that includes the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, American Airlines Arena and a slew of new residential and commercial projects.
The Port Tunnel, which is set to break ground this week and will connect I-395 and the Port of Miami, is also considered a boon for downtown because it will remove large trucks from city streets.
For several years there have been lingering questions about when the art museum would gather enough firm private pledges to be eligible for public construction dollars and when the county -- in the middle of a budget crunch -- would release the balance of the bond proceeds.
The public money is from the county's $2.9 billion Building Better Communities general obligation bond program, which is earmarked for everything from renovating local libraries and renourishing beaches to providing $100 million for the art museum and $175 million for the science museum -- the two new museums are the largest projects on the list.
With voters overwhelmingly approving the bond program in November 2004, art museum supporters often remind critics that public funding for the new facility passed a county-wide vote.
Yet, the bond program monies are to be distributed over 15 to 20 years, raising the question of what projects get funded first and what comes later. And, the art museum had to show it had $31 million in solid pledges before getting all $100 million in public dollars to pay for the facility slated to cost $131 million.
Earlier this year, MAM chair Podhurst said the museum had $44.8 million in pledges, surpassing the benchmark. All told, MAM is charged with raising $100 million in private funds in order to have a $69 million operating endowment.
Podhurst has also pushed for county funding now by arguing that construction prices have dropped significantly and the project would provide needed jobs.
But in April, when a preliminary list of $380 million in Building Better Communities projects for the next four years was released, it did not include MAM -- raising the fear that museum donors might withdraw pledges if the public construction dollars were not made available for several more years.
Now that has changed. Burgess, in his May 28 letter to Podhurst, said he will ``recommend funding for the balance of the Miami Art Museum project'' starting this fall and running through the next three bond sales; $19.5 million has already been sold for the art museum, so about $80 million is to be funded from the future bond sales.
Burgess wrote that his recommendations have been approved by County Mayor Carlos Alvarez.
The county manager, who did not return calls for comment, stipulates in the letter money will be provided to MAM on a ``reimbursement basis'' -- meaning that the art museum will not receive a lump sum, but get the funds as it pays construction bills.

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