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Front Page » Top Stories » Performingarts Centers Opening Pushed Back To October 2006

Performingarts Centers Opening Pushed Back To October 2006

Written by on March 11, 2004

By Shannon Pettypiece
Completion of the Miami Performing Arts Center has been pushed back again, this time to October 2006, Assistant Miami-Dade County Manager Bill Johnson said, threatening sanctions for the builders if the opening is delayed yet again.

"We want sanctions so if this schedule is busted, someone pays," said Mr. Johnson. "If there isn’t a firm completion date and sanctions, this project could go on for another 10 years because you have a contractor that is getting roughly $1 million a month."

The new target date translates into 600 days in delays from the project’s original target opening and a speculated $75 million to $90 million in costs related to the delays, said Mr. Johnson, named county liaison to the project in October.

The contractors – a joint venture among Odebrecht Construction, the Haskell Company and EllisDon Construction – signed off on a revised construction schedule Tuesday that calls for a summer 2006 completion and a fall 2006 opening, Mr. Johnson said.

It took five months in session with a private mediator and the county, builders and architects to agree on the new date. The parties will continue mediation until the spring to determine who is responsible for cost overruns.

The center was slated to open in fall 2004 when the county approved a construction contract in 2001. Then, last summer, officials pushed the target to October 2005.

Speaking to the center’s board of directors at its monthly meeting Tuesday, Mr. Johnson said quality of work has not suffered from the delays.

"This is the most complex thing this county government has ever dealt with in terms of construction," said Mr. Johnson. "I deal with a $4.8 billion project at (Miami International Airport), and that is a piece of cake compared to what we are dealing with here."

The organization that will run the Miami Performing Arts Center faces a budget shortfall partly caused by the two years of construction delays.

The center spanning Biscayne Boulevard between 13th and 14th streets originally was to open in fall 2004 with a $255 million approved budget, but a revised schedule announced Tuesday moved the opening to fall 2006.

According to reports from the Performing Arts Center Trust’s finance committee, the center is short $5 million for items necessary to open the two buildings that fell out of the construction contract and were placed in the trust’s responsibility.

The committee also found that the center needs $12 million to purchase fixtures, furnishing and equipment such as seatback monitors and a pipe organ.

The construction delays are forcing the trust to pay for day-to-day operating expenses without expected ticket and advertising revenue.

"These numbers grow larger and larger every day as this project gets delayed," finance committee chairman David Wilson said at Tuesday’s board meeting. "With delays, the pre-opening operating deficit will continue to grow."

Michael Hardy, center CEO, reported daily operating costs at $7,000, including salaries of 10 trust employees and office space. That would be almost $2.6 million per year.

Trust spokeswoman Gail Eaton said the trust receives subsidized rent for its office space at 1444 Biscayne Blvd.

Also affected by the delays is the project’s architect, Cesar Pelli and Associates, which will need to pay onsite staff for two more years and was forced to beef up operations in the past year.

"If you knew how much money (Pelli) wanted, you would fall off your chair," said Bill Johnson, assistant county manager overseeing the arts center project, adding that he could not disclose the amount. "For whatever reason, the people involved in the project believe this community has a blank check. We do not have the money Cesar Pelli and Associates wants."

Mr. Hardy said he would meet with County Manager George Burgess today (3/11) to discuss ways to keep the trust operational for two more years and finance the amenities.

"The county has a good understanding of where we are," Mr. Hardy said Tuesday.

One solution would be to tap into money raised so far for the center’s endowment, which is not designated for specific areas of the center, Mr. Hardy told the trust’s financial committee last week.

Mr. Hardy said he will "rub elbows" with corporate sponsors this month in Boston, where he will attend a Massachusetts Institute of Technology course on implementing technology at the center.

The original price tag for the center was $255 million, but $57 million in cost overrun claims have been filed and more are expected from the center’s builders, a joint venture among Odebrecht Construction, the Haskell Co. and EllisDon Construction.

Mr. Johnson said the county is not responsible for most of those costs. But Luiz Rocha, president and CEO of Odebrecht, said the builders are not responsible.

Mr. Rocha said in January that when subcontractors were hired after pre-construction they needed more clarification than expected and the county was unable to respond fast enough.

Mr. Rocha said delays occurred when the architect added to plans after shop drawings were complete.

The county, builders and architect entered mediation in October and will meet through the spring to determine who is responsible for extra costs.

The county is investigating possible sources of delays at the center, Mr. Johnson said. He said he is closely looking at what happened during the pre-construction phase, when the county paid contractors $2 million to determine if the proposed cost and timeline were feasible.