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Front Page » Top Stories » County Hands Out 68 Million More For Performing Arts Center

County Hands Out 68 Million More For Performing Arts Center

Written by on July 29, 2004

By Susan Stabley
Miami-Dade County commissioners are writing what one calls a $67.7 million "blank check" to restructure contracts on the overbudget Performing Arts Center of Greater Miami.

The new contracts shift all risk to the county and do not contain limits on costs to finish the center in downtown Miami, originally priced at $255 million.

"We control the risk by taking it over," County Manager George Burgess said Tuesday in urging commissioners to OK the deal.

The arrangement moves the expected day of completion to Aug. 4, 2006. Opening day for the center originally was set for October.

"This is not the maximum price that we are going to see," Commissioner Joe Martinez said.

Voting in opposition were commissioners Betty Ferguson, Dennis Moss, Sally Heyman and Mr. Martinez.

"This is really a blank check we are approving here," Commissioner Katy Sorenson said.

Mr. Burgess said he considers the deal "the best shot we have" to complete the building.

The new deals settle claims from the center’s builder – a joint venture among Odebrecht Construction, the Haskell Co. and EllisDon Construction – and 72 subcontractors. It keeps subcontractors’ costs at 2001 prices. Firing the builders could cost the county more than $160 million, Mr. Burgess said.

He said only money collected from the county’s Convention Development Tax of overnight guests would be used to pay for the project. He said property-tax revenues would not be tapped.

Private benefactors also have contributed money.

Some claims totaling about $2.2 million are exempt from the settlement. Costs for "omissions" from current plans are unknown, Mr. Burgess said.

The county has a $20 million contingency fund, of which the Performing Arts Center Foundation advanced $5 million, Mr. Burgess said.

Most commissioners said Tuesday that they felt they had little choice.

Chairwoman Barbara Carey-Shuler said, "I feel we gave away the candy store here."

Two firms hired Tuesday by Miami-Dade County commissioners to help finish the Miami Performing Arts Center have close ties to the unfinished and overbudget building’s contractors and designers.

Ron Austin, president of Ohio-based Vital Management Solutions, is the project’s new director of construction. According to a memo Monday from the County Inspector General’s Office, Mr. Austin has been paid more than $274,000 since October to be a consultant to the center’s builder – a joint venture among Odebrecht Construction, the Haskell Co. and EllisDon Construction.

County commissioners also agreed Tuesday to waive the bidding process and hire GBBN Architects of Cincinnati. Cesar Pelli and Associates, the project’s architect, selected GBBN, according to Assistant County Manager Bill Johnson.

The deal with GBBN is included in a restructured contract with Pelli – $4.2 million to settle claims and another $10.3 million to assist Mr. Austin.

Voting in opposition on both contracts were Commissioners Betty Ferguson, Dennis Moss, Sally Heyman and Joe Martinez.

According to the new arrangement, Mr. Austin will have a 50-hour, four-day workweek at $150 an hour as a subcontractor to URS Corp., which will have a month-to month contract to provide a staffing pool, Mr. Burgess said. The no-bid $2.3 million contract with URS expires Dec. 31 and will be paid separately from the agreement to pay Mr. Austin, according to Mr. Johnson.

Inspector General Christopher Mazzella questioned in his memo to

Mr. Burgess whether Mr. Austin would able to recommend that the county terminate his former employers or URS.

Mr. Burgess told commissioners the conflict is "not a problem."

Mr. Austin will help "dissect" problems with the project, Mr. Burgess said. He said Mr. Austin had refused to work with the builders at the project’s inception because he "disagreed with the methodologies."

Mr. Austin worked with Pelli on a pair of arts centers in Ohio completed on time and on budget.

"We know what he is to do. It’s called ‘leadership,’ " Mr. Johnson said.

Mr. Austin will answer to Mr. Burgess or Mr. Johnson, the county’s point man on the project. Commissioners were told that former project manager Gail Thompson’s job had been split and that Mr. Johnson and Mr. Austin will fill it.

Ms. Thompson resigned effective June 25. Under the restructuring, she would have been moved to a lesser position handling administrative duties, though her salary wouldn’t have changed.

Ms. Thompson’s annual salary was $172,735 and, under the formula for annual raises, would have increased to $179,020 on July 5, according to the county. Under her severance agreement, she will be paid through April 29.

Mr. Johnson said he will work 25 hours a week out of a trailer at the arts center site.

Some of the difficulties at the center have been traced back to when two assistant architectural firms left the project. Having Pelli as the project’s designer and the "architect of record" was a mistake, Mr. Austin told commissioners last month.

Commissioner Jimmy Morales questioned whether hiring an out-of-town firm would solve the problem.