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Front Page » Top Stories » Miamidades Gimenez Wants To See Art Science Museums Finances In Writing

Miamidades Gimenez Wants To See Art Science Museums Finances In Writing

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Written by on January 7, 2010

By Risa Polansky
Before Miami-Dade doles out hundreds of millions in public money to build new art and science museums, county Commissioner Carlos Gimenez wants to make sure the cultural institutions can afford not only construction but also future operating costs.

He’s sponsoring legislation calling for a report on the museums’ construction and funding status — including verification of not only pledges but also cash on hand.

And until the commission sees that report, the proposal mandates, no more cash to the museums.

His proposal stems from "a concern that I have concerning the ability of the museums to actually obtain the necessary funding for construction, finishing the construction and also the endowments to assure the operating expenses are covered," Mr. Gimenez said Tuesday night.

Commissioners are to consider the measure at the Jan. 11 meeting of the Recreation, Culture and Tourism Committee, and should it pass, again at the full commission Feb. 2.

The Miami Art and Miami Science museums are planning new facilities for downtown’s Bicentennial Park and are to get a combined $275 million from the voter-approved Miami-Dade general obligation bond program toward construction.

"That’s a significant investment from this community," Mr. Gimenez said, "and I want to make sure that before we move forward on that that the plans are realistic… without additional drain on Miami-Dade County."

Above the county funds, each museum has pledged to raise upward of $100 million.

The Gimenez legislation calls for a report on:

—The museums’ construction status.

—The amount of bond money disbursed to each museum.

—The amount of bond money under contract with each museum.

—The projected timeframe for contracting the remaining bond dollars to the museums.

—The "due diligence performed" by the administration to verify each museum can fund the balance of construction costs as well as future operating costs.

—County verification of the ratio of cash on hand vs. pledges to fund completion costs.

"I want to know how much is pledged and how much is in the bank — and I don’t really care too much about pledges. I want to know what’s in the bank," Mr. Gimenez said.

Museum officials could not be reached Tuesday night.

But last month science museum Chief Gillian Thomas said the museum has enough pledged donations for construction, though she wouldn’t cite an amount.

She said she’s not concerned pledges may not materialize into actual donations.

"We don’t have anything like that happening to us."

In September, then art museum head Terence Riley said pledges and cash receipts totaled at least what’s needed to pay for the building, with "no reneging" despite the tough economy.

At the time he listed donations including $10 million from the Knight Foundation and $5 million from Carnival Cruise Lines, among others.

The science building is to include also new space for the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, though the legislation doesn’t specifically reference examining its finances.

Mr. Gimenez said he has no "preconceived notions" in requesting the report, but "I may move forward with other legislation depending on the information" it generates.

He’s not the first to question the museums.

Miami City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff has suggested the science museum may not have its construction funding but said commissioners have not been privy to the numbers.

It’s also unclear whether the county bond money is there to get the museums built on schedule.

Dealing with a shrunken tax roll and lower-than-expected debt service millage, officials are evaluating the bond program to see which projects it can fund when.

Capital Improvements Director Johnny Martinez said in November, "I don’t believe the program has the capacity for the full blown-out construction of the museums now."

Bicentennial Park remediation, the first step toward construction, is also running late.

As plans stand, the art and science museums expect to open in 2013 and 2014.