Miami-Dade hunts for $750,000 for Children's Museum
By Risa Polansky
The Miami Children's Museum may get a funding boost from Miami-Dade County after commissioners Tuesday sent administrators on a hunt for extra cash.
At the request of Bruno Barreiro, whose district covers the museum, commissioners voted to give the administration two months to find $750,000.
From there, the policymakers are to decide whether to hand it over to the museum.
Mr. Barreiro's plea came immediately after commissioners agreed to divert $1.5 million from county library district reserves to the cultural arts grants pool — also his idea.
They'd decided in approving a fiscal 2010 budget last month to cut arts funding 30% in the face of plummeting revenues countywide but lessened that pain a bit Tuesday with the added library dollars.
It's not clear where the extra $750,000 for the children's museum would come from — potentially the library pot again — but commissioners did put their foot down on one source: hands off the general fund.
They agreed to at least look for the money for the museum, but many had concerns about a payout.
The Watson Island-based museum sits on City of Miami-owned land.
The city doesn't provide a dedicated annual subsidy, but its Sports and Exhibition Authority gave a one-time $400,000 grant this year, museum board President Jeffrey Berkowitz told commissioners.
Commissioner Barbara Jordan called the museum a "jewel" but said she worried about the county being put in the position of making up for what the city can't or won't do.
She proposed the city match anything the county gives.
"I'd just like to see more of a commitment from the city regarding the jewel," Ms. Jordan said.
Miami-Dade Cultural Affairs Director Michael Spring pointed out that the museum should also receive a $200,000-plus grant from the county this fiscal year and is eligible for other funding.
The grant last year was $281,000 and came on top of $198,000 from other county sources. The museum is in line also for $2.5 million from the county's general obligation bond program.
"Where does it end?" asked Commissioner Katy Sorenson, who pointed out the county has myriad other museums that may have needs.
"I really hate being the one to say no to everything," she said — Ms. Sorenson cast the lone vote against the added $1.5 million in library funding for cultural programs — but pointed out the county would have to raid another pot to find money for the children's museum, which could prompt other institutions to come with their hands out.
She called it bad policy.
Rebeca Sosa also worried about a potential "Pandora's Box" effect.
Carlos Gimenez, a former Miami city manager, noted that, though the city gave the museum its land, it's a regional asset — and eligible for library funds.
A commission majority voted to at least look for the funding.
The museum hit a snag in the spring, coming close to missing a $400,000 debt payment and reaching out to the city for help.
Museum officials said at the time that, though admission revenues had increased and family memberships were up 22%, donations had declined 36.7% and government grants were down 10.2%.