Standing in the busy construction site that will become the $275 million Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science by 2015, it’s hard to imagine that sharks will one day swim in a space now filled with cranes, rebar and dust.
Slightly easier to visualize is the 70-foot-tall planetarium dome, just starting to emerge as a circle of steel jutting diagonally from the ground.
“It takes a lot of time on the foundation,” said Gillian Thomas, the museum’s president and CEO. “But then it pops out of the ground and goes fast.”
A year after breaking ground at 1075 Biscayne Blvd., the underground parking garage is finished and the main entrance is rising. In addition to the planetarium and Gulf Stream-inspired aquarium, the 250,000-square-foot complex will include a rooftop garden, outdoor energy playground, exhibition space and an eyeful of Biscayne Bay.
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“We’ve oriented the whole thing for the views,” said Thomas during a tour of the site earlier this month. “You’re never far away from content, but you’re never far way from a great view and fresh air.”
Science museums of the past were erected as seemingly impenetrable temples of knowledge with imposing columns and great staircases, Thomas said. The new five-story building, designed by the firm of British architect Sir Nicholas Grimshaw adjacent to the construction site of a the county’s new art museum, is going for an open, inviting feel.
“We asked the architect to make a friendly building where you can see what’s going on inside,” said Thomas, wearing a silver construction helmet bearing the words “The Future Begins Here.”
The next chapter of the museum’s future begins in 2015, although exactly when is still unknown. Thomas said she wants to make it through one more (hopefully uneventful) hurricane season before locking in a date.
So far, the museum has raised $70 million in addition to $165 million from Miami-Dade County bonds, bringing it close to the immediate goal of $275 million needed for the project’s completion. The museum would like to raise an addition $25 million for transitional costs.
One of its fundraising events, the annual Galaxy Gala — with individual tickets priced at $500 — and $100-a-person Big Bang after-party, will be held March 9 at the JW Marriott Marquis.
Thomas said the museum’s progress has added momentum to the efforts. “As we get more visits going, that will help us to finalize a number of supporters that we have out there,” she said. “It’s definitely making it easier to attract attention.”
The neighboring Miami Art Museum, to be called the Pérez Art Museum Miami when it opens in December, has noticed the same thing.
With construction about 80 percent finished, the art museum has raised $175.5 million of its $220 million goal, including $100 million from county bonds.
Earlier this month, Miami art collectors Debra and Dennis Scholl announced the donation of about 300 artworks to the museum. That gift followed the December announcement of a $5 million commitment from Miguel “Mike” Fernandez, chairman of private equity firm MBF Healthcare Partners.
“I think things have been significantly different in the last six months even,” said Leann Standish, the art museum’s deputy director for external affairs. At least once a month, the staff gives a tour to potential contributors to the museum’s capital campaign: “Certainly the donor conversations are much more exciting.”