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Front Page » Top Stories » Performing Arts Center Backers Look To State For More Funds

Performing Arts Center Backers Look To State For More Funds

Written by on September 6, 2001

By Victor Cruz
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The Performing Arts Center Trust and others involved with building the complex hope state legislators will OK a grant that can help pay for amenities lost or delayed during the struggle to meet a guaranteed maximum construction price of $255 million.

Although the county’s project team, led by Director Gail Thompson, said they chopped $24 million off the price estimated in December by the center’s builders, a variety of items were eliminated or delayed to do so. Final changes included putting off the purchase of a portable sound system that local arts groups could use for performances, delaying an automatic mixer lift and a built-in choral riser, using a more conventional elevator design and a reduction of food-service equipment.

Those changes amounted to more than $3.1 million, said Steven Halverson of the Haskell Co., one of three firms that make up a consortium of builders constructing the center along with Odebrecht and Ellis-Don companies.

Michael Spring, arts center interim executive director, said there is also a "list behind the list" of desired amenities that were not included in the final budget.

"It’s more or less things that occurred through the design process, things we would love to have if there were additional funding," Mr. Spring said. He said those items include a pipe organ and "seat-back monitors" for translation.

While Mr. Spring said there was no set list of priorities for additional equipment and decisions on such changes would come following the input from user groups, he also said the center’s design can accommodate some of it. For example, he said, a space for an organ was engineered into the center’s design and the floors of the arts halls are wired for electronic connections into the seats.

If passed in the legislative session that begins in January, a regional cultural facilities grant program could mean the arts center would get $10 million over four years to purchase the deferred or delayed equipment, Mr. Spring said.

The state’s grants system offers $500,000 a year, not to exceed $1.5 million in five years.

The bill will also establish grant criteria for the state’s Division of Cultural Affairs, which disseminates the funds, said Carlos Cruz, lobbyist for the Performing Arts Center Foundation. He said that would eliminate having the award go through the legislative process as a "turkey," or pet project, that often gets vetoed by the governor.

"We are providing a statutory mechanism for the grant award process," he said.

But how much money becomes available for appropriations, even if the local arts bill is approved remains uncertain because the state budget climate seems to be worsening, Mr. Cruz said. The bill, rejected twice, has a tainted history and will be considered at a time when Democrats are saying a $500 million shortfall looms on the horizon.

The size of the state shortfall is to be determined Sept. 13 when analysts meet to revise the forecast for tax collections.

"When you have a legislature which has to choose between Medicaid, health care and arts funding at a time like this, it will take a lot of strategy to get this bill through," Mr. Cruz said.

In 2000 the cultural facilities bill died in committee in the House, and this year it died before it could get to the Senate floor.

Next year, Ron Silver, sponsor of the Senate version of the bill said, he and Rep. Marco Rubio, who will sponsor the House version of the bill, will coordinate efforts to place funds for the planned arts center high on the list of cultural priorities.

Mr. Cruz said the arts center’s needs would be emphasized for allocations over other local projects, such as the Coconut Grove Playhouse. The playhouse became controversial during this year’s session when Rep. Manuel Prieguez questioned the theater’s accountability and funds were removed.

"I took the playhouse out of the House bill. The playhouse should be supported, but not at the expense of the cultural arts center," Mr. Rubio said. "The playhouse and the arts center should be dealt with separately."

In all, the performing arts center project may cost about $334 million after adding $79 million for items other than the actual buildings that will straddle Biscayne Boulevard between Northeast 13th and 14th streets. That includes land costs, insurance, administrative and consulting fees.

The arts center budget must be approved by the county commission Sept. 11 in order for construction to begin Oct. 1, in which case the project should be completed fall 2004.

The project is being paid for with private, county and state grants. The foundation raised $48 million, $20 million of which is in hand, of the total $63.2 million it must turn over to the county by fall 2004, said foundation Director Nancy Herstand. The other $28 million is committed but uncollected.

The arts center is expected to have an economic impact of $258 million, creating 400 jobs during construction, and nearly $14 million annually, supporting 32 jobs after construction, according to county documents.