September 2, 2014

Arts | Entertainment

Culture Shock

Building a world-class performing arts center is proving to be more difficult than expected.

David Villano | 9/1/2004
County officials announced earlier this summer that Miami-Dade's $411-million Performing Arts Center will open in mid-2006. But nobody's holding his breath. Envisioned as a world-class complex, rivaling Carnegie Hall's acoustical quality and the Sydney Opera House's architectural distinction, the center is nearly two years behind schedule and $67 million over budget.

Local officials began touting a performing arts facility more than 20 years ago as a way to nurture a budding arts scene and to attract top performers and touring companies. In 1995, the county commissioned renowned architect Cesar Pelli to design the center, estimated then at $139 million. Five years later, with the project's scope expanded, the price tag increased to $208 million. Within a year, that figure had jumped to nearly $255 million after construction bids exceeded the county's estimates.

Since then construction has crawled, with the contractors -- Haskell Co., Odebrecht U.S. and EllisDon Construction -- and Pelli's design team trading barbs and accusations.

A year ago, officials discovered serious flaws in materials and construction that threatened the acoustical quality. Corrections were made -- but at a cost. Both the contractors and designers demanded substantially higher fees.

After months of negotiations, the county agreed to pay $67 million more, upping the construction cost to $322 million. Another $89 million will be spent on land, insurance and design fees.

Much of the center's funding comes from a countywide tax on hotel rooms, but with a stadium for the Florida Marlins also in the works, little remains for more overruns.

The center will also need $19 million for computers, rugs and other items trimmed from the budget during an earlier round of belt tightening.

Meanwhile, officials have pledged better oversight of the project. The county replaced its full-time project manager in June; outside consultants will help keep tabs on construction.

Michael Hardy, president and CEO of the Performing Arts Center Trust, the non-profit group that will manage the center, says the problems are not surprising given the complexity of such facilities. "It would be far easier to build a 100-story skyscraper," he says.

Despite the problems, the center has already fulfilled one of its promises by stimulating redevelopment in this long-neglected part of the city. An arts district has blossomed, with a number of residential towers under way or on the drawing board. And real estate values have skyrocketed.

Tags: Miami-Dade

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