Commissioner Souto says Museum Park plans rob county
By Risa Polansky
A plan intended to relieve taxpayers of the future financial burden of maintaining planned new art and science museums also robs them of ownership of the buildings, one Miami-Dade County commissioner says.
Because "a large amount of county money" is to contribute to the construction of the planned new museums, "it's the people of Dade County who should own (them)," Commissioner Javier Souto said.
But a blueprint laying out the framework for creating a Museum Park in downtown Miami stipulates that each entity is to own its own facility, though the county is to play an oversight role.
"It's a fundamental change in direction for us," said Cultural Affairs Director Michael Spring last week. "The primary responsibility for the care of these buildings resides with the museums."
In a memo to County Manager George Burgess, Mr. Souto calls this an "anomaly" in the deal.
He last month deferred a vote on the non-binding blueprint as chairman of the Recreation and Cultural Affairs Committee and asked for an explanation before he'd reconsider the item.
At a meeting of the committee Monday, Assistant County Manager Alex Muñoz said ownership puts responsibility "on the museums" for all funding beyond the $275 million in bond money committed by the county.
A written response from the manager's office added: "from the county's perspective, the museums' responsibility for developing their own projects and owning their buildings emphasizes the museums' sole obligation for all capital costs" in excess of the bond grants.
Mr. Muñoz said both in the report and at the meeting that other county-backed entities such as the Cuban Museum and the Black Archives will own their own grant-funded projects.
Owning the buildings is "something they (the museums) have really wanted since inception," he said.
Ownership would give both the Miami Art Museum and the Miami Science Museum the "flexibility and the ability," he said, to fundraise from private donors.
The art museum is on the hook for $120 million in private funding, the science museum for $112 million.
Both museums have said "that the success of (their) commitment to raise substantial private funding for their new buildings... is reliant on being able to assure to the private contributors that each of the museums are the developers, operators and owners of their facilities," the report reads.
But Mr. Souto said he, the museums and the administration "have a difference of opinion."
"Ownership is ownership," he said, and, "at the end of the day, there's a lot of money involved there that comes from the people."
The commissioner did not respond to the manager's report at the meeting, saying only that he plans to read it.
He doesn't know when he will agree to take the item up for a vote.
Mr. Souto also opposes plans to sublease the City of Miami-owned land to the Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority, effectively making the city agency landlord to the museums.
He called it a "convoluted deal."
Mr. Muñoz said the arrangement was one the city felt "comfortable" with, as it mirrors management of the Miami Children's Museum site.
Mr. Souto's distaste for the agreement stems from his opposition to the multi-billion-dollar mega-plan between the city and county.
It calls for $68 million in redevelopment funds to back a revamp of the downtown park meant to house the museums.
Collecting the money would require an expansion of the city's Omni Community Redevelopment Agency, but the area must be proved blighted to do so.
In his memo to the manager, Mr. Souto asked also for the county's basis for declaring the proposed expanded area — which would include Bicentennial Park and Watson Island — blighted.
The manager's written response informed Mr. Souto that such an expansion requires a necessity study that would give him his answer.
The Omni agency board recently agreed to fund one.
Mr. Muñoz provided also, as Mr. Souto requested, a summary of property values for the proposed expanded area.
Bicentennial Park last year was assessed at a $41.6 million value, none of it taxable.
Watson Island was assessed at $27.5 million, an $18.4 million taxable value.
Mr. Muñoz reminded Mr. Souto also that plans to house the museums in the park are supposed to move forward "with or without the global agreement."