Wynwood

Wynwood art gallery gets free police protection for $500 million exhibit

 

Private businesses usually pay $32 an hour for off-duty cops to stand guard, but the city of Miami agreed to post an officer 24/7 at no charge. Not everyone is happy with that decision.

msanchez@elnuevoherald.com

A Miami police officer has guarded a private Wynwood art gallery since early December, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to provide visibility and scare away the bad guys.

The cost to the gallery owner: Nothing.

Gary Nader, who owns the Gary Nader Fine Art Gallery at 62 NE 27th St., asked for the special service to protect an exhibit of 110 works of art valued at $500 million. The exhibit is on loan from a private collector in Portugal.

Mayor Tomás Regalado and Police Chief Manuel Orosa say they agreed to provide the no-cost protection because the gallery is free and open to the public. They say they want local students to see the works by Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali, among other world-renowned artists.

“If something happens to that art collection, it’s going to be, ‘Where were the police?’ ” Orosa said during last week’s City Commission meeting. “It’s a [$500] million art collection, never before seen in the Western Hemisphere, and I provided security, one person, off and on, to that particular art gallery, as part of a free exhibit of a museum-quality art collection.”

According to Nader, an officer sits outside his gallery in a patrol car 24 hours a day and will remain there until the exhibit ends in mid-April. Normally, it costs businesses $32 per hour to hire an off-duty officer, which would total more than $20,000 per month for 24-hour protection.

“It was a gentlemen’s agreement,” said Nader. “This exhibit would not be here without the help of the mayor and the police chief. They understand the importance of art for a city.”

Nader said that by the time exhibit is over, he will have spent about $2 million for the shipping, insurance and private security guards inside the gallery in order to display the works of art from the private collection of his friend, José Manuel Rodrigues Berardo.

Some have questioned the decision to assign a beat officer to a single business while other Miami officers are assigned to entire areas, such as Bayside and Mary Brickell Village.

Among the critics is William Braemer, who said he would love to have a police officer sit outside his Art Fusion Galleries in Wynwood.

“I’d like to have the same connections that Nader has with the city,” said Braemer. “I also open my doors to groups of students.”

That the city would pay an officer to do this surprised the family of a teenager who was shot while riding his bicycle Dec. 19 three blocks away from Nader’s gallery.

“What about my son?” asked Catherine Beaton, mother of 15-year-old Aaron Willis, who is now paralyzed. “His life and his future are more valuable than these paintings.”

At all times, at least five other officers patrol the streets of Wynwood, Orosa wrote in an email to El Nuevo Herald. He added that if he could guarantee that the officer assigned to the gallery would have been able to prevent the shooting had he been on patrol, he would have placed him at the scene without hesitation.

“Unfortunately, however, I do not have such predictive puissance,” he wrote.

As part of the department’s duty to protect life and property, Orosa said, officers are routinely assigned to public events.

“Mr. Nader’s gallery met the same threshold in that it was an exhibit open to the public at no charge,” he said. “I ask that anyone who would criticize my position think about the long-lasting effects of a theft of or vandalism to a $500 million exhibit in our burgeoning art district.”

Nader said he is coordinating visits of local students to see the exhibit, which takes up a portion of the gallery’s second floor. The rest of the building is mostly devoted to Nader’s private collection, although he does sell pieces valued between $200,000 and $10 million.

The daily presence of an on-duty police officer in the gallery’s parking lot was first reported in December by blogger Al Crespo. Following up on a request from Crespo, City Commissioner Francis Suarez asked Orosa about the issue at last Thursday’s commission meeting.

“I don’t know what’s happening, and it was a legitimate question that was posed to me,” Suarez said. “Whenever a citizen or resident or someone who cares about our government has a concern that . . .”

Orosa interrupted: “Or a convicted felon.”

For several seconds, there was silence in the commission chambers. During the 1960s and 1970s, Crespo spent 20 years in prison for robbing banks. Now, the 71-year-old blogs about problems in the city’s government, routinely targeting city leaders such as Regalado, Orosa and Suarez.

Finally, Suarez said: “Listen, when you get a public-records request, I don’t think you treat anyone differently, right?”

The chief responded that the department’s attorneys deal with such requests.

On Tuesday, Regalado said he thought it was a fair use of city funds to provide special police attention to the art gallery, especially because school groups can visit for free.

“And that collection would be so tempting for criminals,” he added. “I’ve been worried since Day One that something would happen, which would be catastrophic for the city’s image.”

Nader said the city was right to provide the free protection.

“The cost of maintaining a police officer outside is minimal when compared to the hundreds of hours I’ve spent to bring the collection here,” Nader said. “This is my gift to Miami for supporting me for 30 years and helping me become the most important art collector in the city.”

The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

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