Convention Tax To Boost Watson Island Developments
By Victor Cruz
Leaping ahead of other groups eligible for county convention development taxes, the Miami Children’s Museum and Regional Visitors & Aviation Center won a total of $8.8 million Tuesday for new projects on Watson Island.
The museum is to get $5 million and visitor center $3.8 million. The money would be used to help build an $11 million, 53,000-square-foot museum and a $13.3 million, 41,700-square-foot visitor center.
The museum has already raised $6 million privately for its home while the center has $9.5 million from the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, which will move from Brickell Avenue.
The 15-year-old children’s museum now lacks a home and operates from an office in the Miami Arena.
"To hold these groups hostage would not be fair," said Commissioner Bruno Barreiro in response to reservations by others who said the action was rushed considering some of the tax has also been promised to other projects, including a proposed baseball stadium for the Florida Marlins.
Commissioner Javier Souto, who ended up voting for the measure, said granting the funds subverted a just-established committee process because the matter had not come before the tourism group which he chairs.
The Children’s Museum, which will feature 22,000 square feet of exhibit space, educational areas and a 200-seat performance hall, plans to begin construction in March and to open in August 2003, said Adolfo Henriques, CEO for the southern district for Union Planters Bank, who spoke on behalf of the museum.
Convention bureau officials say they are finalizing construction documents and plan to begin by Feb. 28. The bureau previously had hoped to break ground in October.
Commissioners said both projects must begin by February or face losing the convention funds, which are collected from a countywide tourism tax.