Royal Caribbean to train, house performers at FIU

This rendering shows the planned entry terrace for the Royal Caribbean Cruises rehearsal facility at Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay campus.
This rendering shows the planned entry terrace for the Royal Caribbean Cruises rehearsal facility at Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay campus.

Aerialists, dancers and other performers for Royal Caribbean Cruises ships will train — and live — at Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay campus as part of a partnership announced Wednesday by the university and cruise ship company.

FIU is providing the land for the $20 million building and Miami-based Royal Caribbean will fund the construction, which starts this month, and operating expenses. As part of the agreement, the cruise operator will provide 20 paid internships for students, give access to the 130,000-square-foot facility and allow FIU students to use proprietary data from the company for research.

The new building includes three-story studios with two different types of rigging systems, a 300-seat theater, 20,000 square feet for costume making and storage and 10 other rehearsal studios. According to FIU, the facility is expected be open by January 2015.

“The centerpiece of the whole agreement is it’s tied to the academic mission,” said Brian Schriner, dean of the College of Architecture + The Arts. He said that beyond internships, the university will be able to develop curriculum with Royal Caribbean to use their building and technology.

“So our students are going to be interning and learning from the RCL professionals as well as from our theater faculty,” he said. “Which creates a whole new dynamic that I think any theater department in the country would be salivating at.”

Students studying technical aspects of theater such as stage management, lighting, design and costuming are likely to benefit the most, Schriner said, though performing arts management students will also have opportunities, and those majoring in performing arts will be able to audition for productions. Half of the internships will be reserved for students with a hospitality and tourism management focus.

Royal Caribbean will pay for the renovation of dorms at FIU, which performers will use as housing. A spokeswoman said the cruise company will be able to house 470 performers at any given time. Because entertainers will live in what is currently used as student housing, the university is planning to build new units for students.

FIU spokeswoman Maydel Santana-Bravo said the goal is to get the new housing area built while the Royal Caribbean project is under construction.

“If there’s a gap due to the timing of the construction, we’ll work to address it with minimal inconvenience to students,” she said.

The deal has been nearly three years in the making. Alan Kleber, managing principal of real estate advisory firm Cresa South Florida, said he has worked with both Royal Caribbean and FIU in the past and spotted the potential for both.

Royal Caribbean, which Kleber advised in the transaction, needed more space than it had in the Hollywood facility where it was training performers.

“The entertainment department has been where they are for the last 10 years and meanwhile the fleet has been expanding and the entertainment opportunities they provide are expanding,” he said. “They needed more infrastructure to support the operations.”

The cruise company’s two main brands, Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises, have 32 ships and more under construction. Kleber said the partnership with FIU allows Royal Caribbean to have the facilities it needs without increasing costs.

He called the deal the most unique and groundbreaking transaction and partnership he’s ever worked on.

“We continued to approach this project from the perspective of how do we balance the unique requirements of both institutions so we are true partners in this rather than negotiating a business deal,” Kleber said.

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