Cuban American National Foundation may lease Freedom Tower; looks for university to run planned museum
By Paola Iuspa
The Cuban American National Foundation is negotiating with several universities to run a museum in the Freedom Tower and is considering keeping its headquarters in Miami's Little Havana instead of moving to the tower.
It is also considering leasing all or part of the tower at 600 Biscayne Blvd. to another tenant, said Joe García, executive director of the foundation, which aims to advance freedom and democracy in Cuba.
While the foundation had hoped to move to the landmark first by March and later by July, it no longer knows when or if it will do so.
"We are waiting to see what results from negotiations with various organizations," he said.
Mr. García is talking with groups interested in leasing part or all of the Mediterranean-style structure, he said Monday. Qualified tenants, he said, would be nonprofit organizations engaged in issues dealing with Latin America, democracy and freedom.
On the other hand, the foundation is negotiating with universities and private groups that could operate a Cuban museum on the first floor, Mr. García said.
Todd Simmons, Florida International University spokesman, said the foundation approached FIU to work out a partnership but he preferred not to give details.
"There is some discussion but it is very preliminary," he said. "There are some interesting opportunities there. We are delighted that they thought of us."
In 1999, Jorge Mas Santos, foundation chairman, and his family bought the 78-year-old tower for $4.2 million to honor Jorge Mas Canosa, a foundation co-founder and Mr. Mas Santos' father.
The tower was built for The Miami News, Miami's first newspaper. When the News moved to a Miami River site in the 1950s the tower was left vacant. The federal government used it to process thousands of Cuban refugees coming to the US in the late 1960s, hence its name.
The tower was vacated again, only to be partially restored by an owner that never occupied it and left it to rot. Then the Mas Santos family acquired it and began restorations.
The tower is assessed at $35 million, Mr. García said. The Mas family paid for most of the restoration, he said. The family held a few fundraisers but didn't aggressively pursued outside financial help, he said.
The two-year, $21 million restoration is almost done and the foundation hopes to win a certificate of occupancy from the City of Miami in late November, said Jose Puig, president of JGP Engineering Group, which oversees restoration of the office space from the fourth to the 16th floors, the exhibition hall to showcase Cuba's history, an auditorium on the third floor and the museum.
Plans to build a plaza in the parking lot are on hold because one of the universities considering running the museum would like to build a garage with meeting space on top, Mr. García said.
The office space is already carpeted and painted, but walls and floors of the museum and the exhibit hall remain naked, said Mr. Puig.
It will cost $10 million to $15 million to dress up those rooms, Mr. Garcia said. It is not clear who would foot the bill. "That is one of the points we are negotiating with the organizations interested in operating the museum."