Officials say all's fine as arts center deadline nears
By Victor Cruz
With only four months remaining for a performing arts center consortium of builders to meet or beat $255 million construction budget set by the county, Project Director Gail Thompson said an Aug. 22 deadline will be met.
The clock began ticking on an accord fixing the proposed venue's maximum price on Feb. 21 when a deed for the site was transferred from Knight Ridder, parent company of the Miami Herald, to the Performing Arts Center Trust.
The 36-member nonprofit is charged with managing the consortium's work and operating the planned arts complex.
Approved in December by the county commission, the contract contained a clause that gave Performing Arts Center Builders six months to lower a submitted price of $279 million. If it fails to reach the lower price by negotiating with subcontractors and finding cheaper ways of working, commissioners can scrap the project or set in motion a bidding process that could further delay a project already two decades in the making.
"I don't foresee such a scenario," says Ms. Thompson, although bids for the project's trade jobs just went out this month. "This is like getting a big steam engine rolling when it's been standing still. There's a learning curve for everybody.
"The first three bidding packages hit the street last week," Ms. Thompson said last Friday.
Packages were released to garner proposals for demolition, excavation and ground-testing on the land between 13th and 14th streets on both sides of Biscayne Boulevard, she said.
Bids that remain to be submitted range involve "from 50 to well over 100" trade jobs, Ms. Thompson said.
By bidding out weekly through "the next month or so," she said, the majority of bid packages will be out for contractors to give price proposals.
While Ms. Thompson and others use the term "bidding," in fact, she said that what is being solicited are "pricing proposals which are negotiable and can therefore be modified to come in on budget as the August deadline approaches.
"By the end of the summer we will have a price set," she said.
The more bids are in, the better the builders can choose where to begin searching for what they call "value-engineering options" places to shave
about $24 million off the initial $279 million estimate. A great deal of the negotiating between the contractors and the building group will occur close to the August deadline, Ms. Thompson said.
"We're hoping to get three to 10 bidders for each trade," she said.
Despite the tight schedule in which much of the evaluation process gets done late in the game, arts center proponents maintain an optimistic outlook.
Department of Cultural Affairs Director Michael Spring, who in February replaced former Performing Arts Center Trust executive director and CEO Tom Tomlinson, said the project is doing very well and he is now working to assemble a staff "to successfully open the center."