Miami Beach Hesitates On New World Symphony Center Funding
By Charlotte Libov
Concerned that the proposed Frank Gehry-designed New World Symphony $135 million performance center could become a financial quagmire, the Miami Beach City Commission will seek taxpayer input before deciding on a $15 million grant.
"Everyone loves the project and we know the value of the New World Symphony. But we pride ourselves on being fiscally responsible and we are concerned about what happened downtown," Miami Beach Mayor David Dermer said at last week’s public hearing, referring to the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts, which opened in Miami in August after years of costly delays. But Michael Tilson Thomas, the orchestral academy’s founder and artistic director, assured him this won’t happen because the plans "have been developed to an extraordinary level."
"I understand the suffering that we are going through," he said, noting that similar concerns had been expressed during other successful projects he had been involved with, including construction of the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, the Sapporo Japan Pacific Music Festival and the London Symphony Orchestra’s St. Lukes.
At the meeting, commissioners said the symphony initially had asked the city just for the land and garage. But Howard Frank, vice chairman and chief operating officer of Carnival Corp. and chairman of the orchestral academy’s capital campaign, noted that although the project was pegged at $90 million, construction costs had soared.
He also warned that further delays would kill the project. "We’ve gone as far as we can go and if we can’t get the commission to go along, I’m going to stop the project," he said.
But Commissioner Saul Gross said that because of rising land values and construction costs, the city’s contribution to the project had risen to $25 million, not counting the $15 million grant. "The city’s contribution is real. We don’t like surprises and $40 million surprises don’t fly well here."
Howard Herring, the academy’s president and CEO, said the organization is in the midst of a $200 million fund-raising campaign to fund the building and an endowment. He said $140 million, of which $105,000 already has been raised, is to come from private sources, with the remaining $60 million from public funds, including $15 million from the city, $30 million from Miami-Dade County, $500,000 from the state and the remainder from federal programs. The academy has not yet decided which federal grants to apply for, he said, but it will probably be educational funds.
The commission agreed to hold the public workshop in early January so it can decide at the Feb. 14 meeting. Mr. Tilson Thomas asked that the workshop be scheduled so that he can be present, and Mr. Dermer agreed.
"You are the best salesman for this project," the mayor told him. "We would all love to jump on this ship with you, but sometimes we have to deal with non-sexy issues. We are dealing with the public trust." Advertisement