Pact Evolving To Put Gusman Theater Management Under Arts Council
By Catherine Lackner
A new alliance might help assure the future of downtown’s landmark Gusman Theater whether or not its governing authority, the Miami Parking System, is privatized.
Several months ago, talks began between the parking authority and the Miami-Dade County Cultural Affairs Council for the arts council to assume a leading role in managing the theater, said Art Noriega, Miami Parking System director.
When Maurice Gusman donated the theater to the city, he stipulated that the parking agency was to govern it. But, Mr. Noriega said, "we’re coming to the opinion that the parking authority might not be the best-suited entity to manage it. We think the theater might be better served by the Department of Cultural Affairs and the financial resources at its disposal."
The Gusman, built in the heart of downtown in the mid-1920s as a movie theater, now is a performance venue to a variety of groups. It perennially operates at a loss and each year faces a question of whether the city will grant it enough funding in a range of several hundred thousand dollars to remain open.
"The parking authority and the Cultural Affairs Council first met 19 months ago for a joint assessment of the situation," said Michael Spring, council director. "We wanted to figure out a way to stabilize the operation of Gusman. While the parking department manages parking very well, it might not be the best fit as a manager for the theater.
"We looked at various options, which included their contracting with any another nonprofit to run it," Mr. Spring said.
The Colony Theater on Miami Beach, he said, is run in such a model, but no local nonprofit stepped up to the plate in Gusman’s case.
Also considered: having the City of Miami, through the parking department, appoint staff whose only job would be to manage the theater. But the city’s continuing troubles seemed to preclude that, Mr. Spring said.
"So that left our department. We told the parking authority that we weren’t anxious to take over the management but if that’s what it would take, we’d be willing to do it."
Negotiations between the city’s legal staff and Miami-Dade County staff members commenced and a draft agreement "has gone back and forth," Mr. Spring said.
Then Miami Mayor Joe Carollo announced that he wanted to place before the public his long-standing goal of privatizing the Miami Parking System.
Putting a referendum on the November ballot is to be discussed by the Miami commission today (9/7).
Regardless of whether Mr. Carollo’s campaign to abolish the parking agency is successful, Mr. Spring said he’s hopeful some agreement can be worked out that is beneficial to Gusman.
"It doesn’t have to be us," he said. "If Art and the city can figure out a way to run it, we’d be delighted.
"Just the fact that we’re in negotiations has rebuilt the confidence of cultural groups and of the public. The performing groups are booking events for next year because they believe, one way or another, this theater isn’t going to be closing, but is going to have the professional management it deserves."
If voters back parking privatization, Mr. Spring said, there’s still hope a partnership with the Cultural Affairs Council could be achieved.
"Maybe this is naive, but since we’ve had both the city and the parking department involved all along, we’re used to negotiating with the city as a partner."
Mr. Spring also expressed confidence in Mr. Noriega and other city officials who have been involved in the Gusman deal.
"Along the way, we all got to know each other better. We all want to do what’s best for the theater.
"I’ve got nothing but the highest praise for Art Noriega and his commitment to doing the right thing. He really cares about Gusman. It’s a great relationship, with everybody wanting the right thing to happen for the theater and believing in it as a community asset."
While the agreement was moving forward slowly, work on the Gusman continued over the summer.
"It’s actually going well," Mr. Noriega said. "We got the county to spend $1.2 million for work this summer redoing the roof, the signage and a portion of the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system. We got a $3.9 million grant. But the county was a little concerned about releasing the money; they weren’t sure the city would keep the theater open."