City of Miami refuses to pay for $85,000 museum park study
By Ted Carter
Miami city commissioners have refused to pay architectural and urban design firm Cooper Robertson and Partners an $85,000 fee for a study that looked at whether a transformed Bicentennial/Museum Park would have the correct visual harmony with the Arsht Performing Arts Center of Miami-Dade County and other nearby structures.
Commissioners say they did not know former City Manager Joe Arriola authorized New York-based Cooper Robertson to do the study.
They contend that the costs should have been covered by the performing arts center and other downtown property owners who were worried the new park would overshadow their buildings.
Commissioners did agree last week to pay Cooper Robertson an extra $100,000 for organizing and presenting a series of hearings on the conceptual plans for the park that is to include buildings for the Miami Art Museum and the Miami Science Museum.
That allocation brings fees for Cooper Robertson over the $1.4 million cap specified in the contract for the conceptual plan for the park. Commissioners were annoyed the cap would be exceeded but agreed to cover the meetings' costs.
They could not, however, accept paying the bill for the extra conceptual work. They said they should have been told about the extra work and fees ahead of time.
"Shouldn't it be brought to our attention we're exceeding the contract?" Commissioner Marc Sarnoff asked.
Understanding how the contract fees reached this point, said Commissioner Tómas Regalado, is no simple matter. "I think it's much easier to explain the Bermuda Triangle," he said at the Jan. 10 commission meeting.
He said the unilateral action by Mr. Arriola and Cooper Robertson's exceeding of the $1.4 million cap without a heads-up to commissioners reflects "a disregard for the city commission."
Mr. Regalado, a longtime critic of the spending of hundreds of millions in public money for the performing arts center, charged that the extra work performed without the commission's knowledge was done "just to please the elite of the performing arts center."
Commissioner Joe Sanchez, in his first meeting as chairman, asked that a decision on paying the $85,000 be delayed.
"I think we're entitled to more explanation," he said. "I want a breakdown on the scope of services."
Mr. Sanchez said he especially wants to know how much was spent on each of the public meetings Cooper Robertson organized. "I want to know how much taxpayer money we've wasted," he said.
In the end, the firm must be paid in full, City Manager Pete Hernandez said. "They have done the work."
Mr. Arriola's order for the work to be done was tantamount to the commission giving the order, City Attorney Jorge Fernandez said.
Going to court to escape making the payment most likely would be futile, he advised. "Our chances of prevailing are not very good."
In agreeing to pay $100,000 of the $185,000 in additional fees, commissioners asked staff to provide a breakdown on the cost of conducting the public participation meetings. If they find that a sizeable portion of the fees relate to bringing in Cooper Robertson staff and experts from out of the area, the conclusion could be that the city should try to hire local urban design firms for such work in the future.
"Hiring locally would save money," Mr. Sarnoff predicted.
Cooper Robertson initially received a contract of $1,334,455, of which $810,857 was for a master plan schematic design and $523,598 for design development.
The contract had a contingency reserve of $65,000. Cooper Robertson received a contract increase of that amount last January to complete work that had been listed as optional in the original contract.
The contract specifies that the city has up to three years to audit the contract performance and payments once terms of the contract are completed.