Developer proposes partnership on Miami’s Olympia Theater
A developer is proposing a public-private partnership with the City of Miami for one of the city’s most valuable gems: Olympia Theater.
Details of the proposal haven’t been formally released, but the idea is expected to be a discussion item for city commissioners when they next meet June 13.
Daniel Rotenberg, director of the city’s Department of Real Estate and Asset Management (DREAM), told Miami Today about the “P3 solicitation” when the newspaper inquired about the status of the historic structure.
The city has been working on repair and renovation of the building for some time, and in negotiations with Miami Dade College to take over operations of the theater.
Mr. Rotenberg said his department had the public-private partnership offer included as a discussion item in order to get the city commission’s reaction to the proposal.
“We want the commission to give us direction,” he said.
In the meantime, Mr. Rotenberg said, talks with the college have continued. “Negotiations are still ongoing,” he said.
He mentioned appraisals for the fair market value of the property, and noted the city typically has an easier time granting a deal with an entity like Miami Dade College, equating it to an intergovernmental transfer.
Mr. Rotenberg said the city is at a point where “we’re waiting for some sort of formal offer” from the college.
The city owns the Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts at 174 E Flagler St., which is currently managed by not-for-profit Olympia Center Inc.
At a meeting in April 2018, the commission directed City Manager Emilio González to explore a partnership with the college for operation of the theater. The move was initiated by Commissioner Ken Russell, who also suggested the city consider spending $15 million to $20 million from a 2017 general obligation bond package to restore the theater’s façade.
Mr. Russell’s resolution directed the city manager “to explore the feasibility of a potential partnership with Miami Dade College for the operation of the Olympia Theater, including housing options for MDC students.”
The Olympia Theater opened in 1926 as a silent movie palace and the city’s first air-conditioned building. It was donated to the city as a cultural arts facility by the Maurice Gusman family in 1975. The theater was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
Although the auditorium has undergone renovations over the years, the entire building has seen better days. While the iconic venue continues to host concerts and other large events, the property needs work, including to the brick exterior.
Architect Richard Heisenbottle was involved in interior restoration work at the theater several years ago. The college had him study the current needs for the property, according to Mr. Rotenberg.
A report from Mr. Heisenbottle shows needed repair, mostly exterior, would cost “a number north of $20 million,” said Mr. Rotenberg.
The building has about 80 apartments on the floors above the theater. Mr. Rotenberg said about 60 of the residential units are occupied and in good shape. The remaining units are used for office space, he said.
The latest cost estimate doesn’t add in the interior units, he said.
In November, city commissioners approved use of funds to develop construction documents for Phase I of a façade restoration for Olympia.
A resolution approved Nov. 15 allowed execution of a grant agreement between Olympia Center Inc., as property manager, with the State of Florida Department of State Division of Historical Resources for award of $500,000 to be used exclusively for the Olympia Theater Façade Restoration, Phase I.
In 2016, Olympia Center Inc. applied for matching state funds to begin the specialized, engineering analysis, documentation, design and construction document development to restore and repair the façade.
The center worked with the City of Miami Historic Preservation and Grants Administration staff to complete the application for $500,000 from the state, to be matched by up to $1 million from the city.
In a state document, Phase I of the restoration was described this way: “Grant funds will be used to restore the approximately 29,400 square foot façade of the Olympia Theater and Office Building… as the first phase of a multiple phase project. This phase of the project entails the development of a complete set of construction documents suitable for bid and permitting purposes for the restoration of the structural system and the exterior façade of the building, including preliminary evaluation of existing conditions, stabilization work, research of historic documentation, and preparation of construction drawings and a bid package. Grant funds will also be used for grant administration and project management.”