Parking system to retain park director to oversee Gusman
By Paola Iuspa
The Bayfront Park Management Trust and Gusman Center for the Performing Arts may soon have one thing in common an executive director.
Jay Constanz, executive director who transformed the trust's shaky finances, has received an offer to manage the theater, which needs new programming and revenues, said Arthur Noriega, executive director of the Miami Parking System.
The parking authority has run the city-owned performing arts center at 174 E Flagler St. since Maurice Gusman gave the site to the city in the early 1970s.
The trust and authority plan to sign an agreement by March 28, Mr. Constanz said. It is a year-long contract with an option for two, one-year renewals.
"We are confident it will happen," Mr. Noriega said.
The contract, he said, would give the parking authority the option to cancel if Mr. Constanz stops working for the trust.
Mr. Noriega said the Off-Street Parking Board, which runs the Miami Parking System, has been impressed with the way Mr. Constanz is managing Bayfront Park.
"He is doing a tremendous job," he said. "Gusman could benefit from his management style and the experience he got working 15 years for Fox Theaters in Atlanta."
Under the proposed agreement, Mr. Constanz would work out of his office in Bayfront Park, report to the parking agency, work with the theater staff, make recommendations, attract new events, work with local promoters and help write grant applications, Mr. Noriega said.
"One of my challenges will be coming up with new programming," Mr. Constanz said.
The theater this year received grant money from the county so that it could begin to "pursue its own programs," Mr. Noriega said. Now, he said, the Gusman operates as a rental hall with the authority having almost no say in the production of shows.
"I will also work with both the authority and the county in the theater's renovation and restoration process," Mr. Constanz said.
The 1,700-seat Gusman is undergoing a $6 million restoration with the county allocating $3.9 million, Mr. Noriega said. The work is done during the two months the theater closes in the summer.
The roof and part of the air-conditioning system were fixed last summer. The parking agency plans to finish air-conditioning work this year and to restore a ceiling and change seating in 2002, he said.
This is not the first time the parties talked about joining forces, he said. The idea was discussed two years ago but because both were running in the red, they dropped it, Mr. Noriega said.
The proposed contract calls for the authority to pay the trust $50,000 for management services and a 6% contribution to the executive director's retirement package a total of $56,720.
Mr. Constanz' current $82,000-a-year salary would rise to $110,000 after the agreement was signed. The trust would net about $27,000, said City Commissioner Joe Sanchez, trust chairman.
Mr. Constanz said the city hired him in May to run the park.
"Now it runs like a business," he said, "not like a soup-kitchen."
The theater, which had an executive director in the past but doesn't now, ran an annual $400,000 deficit for years, Mr. Noriega said. But last year the deficit was cut to $100,000, he said, leaving funds for an executive director.
Mr. Constanz started with the park last May and oversees a $3.3 million budget, one-third of that coming from the city's operating budget. The rest comes from events and license agreements with companies renting space in the park, he said. The trust has under its wing the care of Bicentennial Park.
In less than a year, Mr. Constanz said, he paid off most of $492,000 the city gave the trust. The Governor's Financial Oversight Board stepped in with a repayment plan whereby the park is to pay $100,000 a year for five years.
At the end of 1999, the trust made its first payment. At the end of 2000, Mr. Constanz gave city commissioners a check for the balance, he said.
Mr. Sanchez said the trust was able to present a July 4 event last year at a cost of $26,000 that in the past had cost more than $100,000.
He said the trust's success can be traced to its refusal to waive fees for events.
"We don't waive fees," Mr. Constanz said. "We find other ways to help promoters because we don't want to lose them. We want them to come back, to use the park again. But we don't waive fees. If you do it once, then you have to do it all the time."
City Commissioner Johnny Winton, whose district includes the park, complimented Mr. Constanz and trust members.
"You did a great job turning around a big mess," he told them last week. "You guys have done a tremendous job."
Mr. Constanz said he met with James Jenkins, director of the Miami Sports & Exhibition Authority, and officers of the Downtown Development Authority to plan activities to enhance downtown.
Some held annually include the Bob Marley Festival and the Big Orange New Year's Jamboree.
The trust, Mr. Constanz said, will soon start negotiations with AT&T to renew its $200,000-a-year amphitheater sponsorship.