After about 13 years of hosting visual and performing arts classes in a downtown neoclassical building, a Homestead nonprofit is looking for a new home.
Embattled for-profit college developer Ernesto Perez has purchased the building off Krome Avenue that ArtSouth calls home.
Perez did not return multiple phone calls and text messages requesting comment.
But at a recent Homestead City Council meeting, he told the council that he plans to retrofit the building so that mom-and-pop businesses can open shop there. Retrofitting the space to accommodate new businesses may cost between $2 and $3 million, he said.
“Quite frankly, we support the arts. … But it needs to be something that’s viable both economically that there’s growth initiatives involved within the organization and that the organization is heading in the right direction,” Perez told the council. “What we are trying to do is create viable businesses that work within the business model that we know how to work.”
The building is located across the street from one of Dade Medical College’s campuses in Homestead.
Last month, Perez resigned from his position as the school’s CEO after he was slammed with criminal charges for failing to disclose prior criminal arrests.
Investigators say Perez did not disclose two prior arrests when he filled out paperwork to be appointed to a for-profit schools oversight group.
He remains Dade Medical College’s majority owner.
Jonathan Janeiro, Dade Medical’s new co-CEO, told the Miami Herald that the school currently does not have plans to expand into the building.
Miami-Dade County records show that in early September, Southern Arts Associates, a limited liability company managed by Alan Levine, sold the property where ArtSouth is located to Florida Education Center of Homestead, a Florida Limited Liability Company registered to Perez.
Levine is the son of ArtSouth co-founder, Irvine Stanley Levine, who died in 2010. Alan Levine did not return calls or emails requesting comment.
ArtSouth, a non-profit that strives to teach art to children in the community through after-school and summer programs, has until the end of the year to vacate the space.
“He is not throwing us out, like saying, ‘You need to leave.’,” said Beatriz Herrmann, the secretary of ArtSouth’s board of directors. “He is saying, ‘You have until Dec. 31 unless you pay me $15 per square foot for rent.’”
That would amount to about $22,000 in monthly rent.
ArtSouth used to pay about $3 per square foot for rent, or $6,000 a month.
ArtSouth board chairwoman Janis Klein-Young said the nonprofit cannot afford the rent hike. The nonprofit is mainly subsidized from grants awarded by the county and state cultural affairs divisions. These grants, she added, cannot be used to cover rent.
Klein-Young hopes ArtSouth will stay in Homestead.
“There’s really nothing in that community as far as cultural arts,” said Klein-Young. “I don’t want to fold. We are trying to attract culture to that South Dade area. I know we don’t fit into Mr. Perez’s vision, but these children, who are currently in our program, will never be able to shop in his boutiques or dine at his restaurant. It’s kind of ironic that it was a sanctuary for those families and those children and now it will be financially prohibitive for them to be there. ”
Perez has said that he has committed to financially help ArtSouth relocate to its new home and he told the City Council that he is willing to extend the Dec. 31 deadline if the arts group needs more time to find a new home.
In the meantime, ArtSouth has started to hold classes elsewhere.
Visual arts teacher and ArtSouth artist in residence Marcia Maynard holds bi-weekly after-school classes at Cutler Ridge Middle School and at the Homestead Chapman Partnership, a homeless shelter.
“It’s a way for us to continue to service the community,” said Maynard.
ArtSouth was founded in 2000 and opened its doors to the public a year later. Clay artist Ellie Schneiderman and attorney Irvin Stanley Levine founded the nonprofit as a way to proliferate culture in South Miami-Dade. Over the years, ArtSouth grew and developed into a comprehensive arts hub. Today, it includes: about 50 resident artists; three galleries; a ceramic facility; a sowing classroom; a computer lab; a dance studio; a painting studio; a performing arts studio; and after school art classes for adults and youths.
“Losing our space, it’s been like death. ArtSouth is so beautiful, and it feels like losing a family member,” said Maynard.