Childrens Museum Due To Begin Construction On Watson Island In 5 Months
By Paola Iuspa
Fast-track construction of the Miami Children’s Museum on Watson Island should start in about five months.
In approving the lease for the project site, City of Miami commissioners also directed city administrators to allow fast-track permitting for the museum so that construction could begin by early January.
"If they don’t get off the ground by January, they may lose state money" that has been allocated for the project," said Commissioner Tomás Regalado, who proposed the measure.
Fast-tracking would get the 53,000-square-foot museum built in 14 months and open by the 2003 school year, said Deborah Spiegelman, museum executive director.
"Now we are confident we can meet all the expectations," she said. "The city has shown the Children’s Museum is an important cultural link between children and their families and the community."
Fast-tracking is a procedure city officials use to advance certain projects. For example, it made possible construction of a 750,000-square-foot Technology Center of the Americas in Park West in nine months, said Commissioner Johnny Winton.
The six-story technology center, 50 NE Ninth St., is home to one of the five Tier-1 network access points, or NAPs, in the US. The NAP of the Americas, owned and operated by Terremark Worldwide Inc., is like a switching station for Internet traffic coming from Latin America.
"Time was critical," said Brian Goodkind, executive vice president and chief operating officer with Terremark. "The NAP would have never happened without the cooperation we got from the city. Nine months was the time we had project for construction," and that was the time it took to get the NAP running.
On the city-owned island, the wave-shaped, two-story museum building will sit on 2.3 acres immediately south of a proposed mega-yacht marina planned for 13.4 acres of submerged land and hotel, retail and entertainment facilities on 10.8 acres of upland in the northwestern corner of the island.
A planned 16-acre Greater Miami Regional Visitors Center & Aviation Building is going up east of the museum while Parrot Jungle & Gardens, now under construction on 5.5 acres, will be north and on the other side of the island.
Ms. Spiegelman said the project’s $17 million budget includes $7 million for construction, $4 million to build exhibits, $1 million for an endowment trust and the remaining for programming and operating expenses. About $14.2 million, she said, is in the bank.
The museum is to be built on land valued at $3 million, Ms. Spiegelman said.
The lease worked out with the city calls for a $2 annual rent and a minimum of $75,000 yearly of in-kind donations to make up for property taxes the site will not produce because it is owned by a municipality.
The city and museum are sharing costs incurred by building new roads or utilities for the project, said Laura Billbery, city director of asset management.
The terms of the agreement were designed after city administrators had contacted officials at about 25 children’s museums to learn about leases, said Arleen Weintraub, director of the city’s real estate and economic development department.
The museum is to include 22,000 square feet for exhibit space, eight galleries, two multi-use meeting rooms, two classrooms, a parent-teacher resource center, a 200-seat auditorium, a center for performers with disabilities and an outdoor exhibition and dining area.
The nonprofit education group, which started in 1983 as the Miami Youth Museum in South Miami, got city approval to move to Watson Island a year ago after plans to build next to the Vizcaya Metrorail station failed. The Children’s Museum, which got its new name in 1997, has been operating out of offices in the Miami Arena and has been involved in outreach programs and satellite exhibits since 1998.
Ms. Spiegelman said everything seems to be going as planned and the support she has gotten from the community is encouraging.
"It has been a good year," she said. "A very good year."