County gives $4 million more for Performing Arts Center construction
By Shannon Pettypiece
County officials Tuesday doled out another round of millions to cope with construction troubles at the Greater Miami Performing Arts Center. Millions more in cost overruns are anticipated
The county approved paying an additional $4 million and the contractors are putting out $7 million from their reserves to pay subcontractors for work associated with design problems and delays.
Whoever is found responsible for the costs through an ongoing mediation process is to repay the other party.
In all, the contractors are requesting the county pay $57 million over the original cost to compensate for design deficiencies and delays. Assistant County Manger Bill Johnson said Tuesday that he expects "tens of millions more in claims to come."
Mr. Johnson said most of those claims stem from costs incurred in 255 days of delays.
More delays and further costs overruns are expected since the project is almost two years from completion and there are problems not yet accounted for, said Mr. Johnson, the county's point person for the project.
In the original arts center construction budget of $255 million, the county set aside an $18 million contingency fund, project manager Gail Thompson said. Of that $18 million, the county already paid $6 million this fall in additional costs.
The center's completion date is expected to be pushed back another year to late 2005, Mr. Johnson said. In January, contractors are to submit a final construction schedule.
The three parties involved - the county, the architect and the builders - will discuss who will pay for the extra costs during mediation sessions that will stretch into spring, Mr. Johnson said.
"I don't believe you are going to see $57 million in requests come here for you to pay," he told county commissioners. "We have had brutally, brutally frank conversations in front of the mediator."
In addition to the construction costs, commissioners also approved on Tuesday a $750,000 contract with URS Corp. for consulting services from November to February. Mr. Johnson said he awarded the consulting contract without competitive bidding in the interest of time.
"We need an assessment of what went wrong," Mr. Johnson said. "I did not have the opportunity to through the competitive bidding process... I did not have the luxury of time."
The head of URS worked with Mr. Johnson on Miami's American Airlines Arena project.
The arts center dispute is largely over who is responsible for the costs resulting from thousands of design clarifications needed by the builders during the first months of the project despite having six months in advance and $2 million to review plans and get answers to any questions, Mr. Johnson said.
A representative for the Performing Arts Center Builders was unavailable for comment Tuesday.
Each commissioner at Tuesday's meeting asked for explanations about who is responsible for the added costs and why problems have occurred. Many said they are pessimistic about the future of the center and think someone is taking advantage of the county.
"Recognizing the problem is not enough. We need to know what went wrong when and who is responsible," Rebeca Sosa said. "I know a price tag is going to come and we are going to have to pay for this."
Jose "Pepe" Diaz held up a piece of paper reading "Kick Us" during the meeting and said "this is the sign put on our backs every time we do one of these projects."
Commissioner Diaz also cited some of his favorite names for the construction site on Biscayne Boulevard between 13th and 14th streets, such as the "Rust Structure" and "Money Pit."
Dennis Moss admonished those responsible for the extra costs.
"There seems to be a pattern of the county being jacked up (for money) all the time," he said. "We're holding the money bag all the time... it's like we're easy pickings."
County Manager George Burgess said he is not going to allow the county to be abused.
"If we have to pull the trigger, so be it," Mr. Burgess said in response to commissioners' comments. "I have no interest in having someone take us for a ride."
Parker Thomson, chair of the Performing Arts Center Trust, said at the meeting that the trust, which will operate the center once it opens, is pleased with how the county manager has dealt with the construction problems.
"I applaud the manager for how he has responded to this," Mr. Thomson said. "The most important thing is to preserve quality. We will live through the delays, not happily, but we will live."