A pair of historic, glittering buildings sat empty beside a busy Miami thoroughfare. An arts foundation with a nomadic background was looking for a place to plant permanent roots and expand.
That is how the National YoungArts Foundation, founded 31 years ago by Ted and Lin Arison, came to find its new home: the iconic Bacardi Tower and Museum complex along Biscayne Boulevard. The campus will get a Frank Gehry-designed master plan and year-round programming to link downtown’s burgeoning arts scene with the hip Wynwood and Design District neighborhoods.
Officials with the organization and company will announce the news Wednesday.
“This was really, I believe, a match made in heaven,” said Paul T. Lehr, executive director of YoungArts. “There was no better place for us to go and there was no better purchaser for this campus than us and what we were going to do.”
Lehr said Bacardi U.S.A. sold the 3.3-acre site at 2100 Biscayne Blvd. to the foundation for $10 million, though the market value was over $20 million. The blue and white tiled tower, by architect Enrique Gutiérrez, was completed in 1963. The mosaic square known as the “jewel box,” designed by Ignacio Carrera-Justiz, was added in 1975.
They were designated as historic in 2009 by Miami’s historic preservation board.
Facundo L. Bacardi, chairman of the board of spirits producer Bacardi Limited, said the sale wasn’t about making money. The privately held company moved its Americas headquarters to Coral Gables in 2009 and has maintained the Biscayne Boulevard site but used it only rarely.
When Lehr approached him with the idea about nine months ago and discussions started within the company, “it was kind of like a light bulb went off,” Bacardi said.
“We were looking for somebody to extend the legacy of the property and how much it means to us,” he said. “I don’t think we could’ve come up with a better partner.”
While closely guarded, the news had been shared with some YoungArts supporters in recent days. Reactions were enthusiastic.
“It’s not only a milestone in Miami’s evolution as a cultural community, I think it’ll be a powerful magnet for talent for decades to come,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which has supported the organization. “The whole thing just strikes me as perfect for a cultural center for this town.”
Despite working with more than 16,000 students over the last 31 years — including alumni like Vanessa Williams and Nicki Minaj, who have become household names — YoungArts has kept a relatively low profile. The organization finds and nurtures artists 15 and older, bringing in 150 a year for a week of intensive classes with masters in their field.
Even with its new home, the foundation is also planning a huge expansion of activities beyond Miami, including year-round events in New York, a Los Angeles version of Miami’s YoungArts Week and continued presence in Washington as the only nominating agency for the Presidential Scholars in the Arts.
“It’s all coming together at once,” Lin Arison said. “That’s because it’s meant to be. We’ve been doing our quiet work for 31 years, and now it is going to become visible.”