Two weeks after ousting the board of a troubled science museum that bears their names, Patricia and Phillip Frost accepted a community award Wednesday night with a call for helping institutions achieve “higher levels of excellence.”
“It requires participation,” Phillip Frost, a medical doctor and one of the wealthiest men in South Florida, told the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce audience. “All of our participation. All of your participation.”
Shortly after accepting the Chamber’s “Sand in My Shoes” award for contributions to the Miami area, Frost closed his brief remarks with a twist on Julius Caesar’s famous conquering line. On their time in Miami, he said: “We came. We saw. We participated.”
The night’s program saw business and political leaders embrace the Frosts and their history of significant financial pledges at a time when their insistence on a new board at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science set off a wave of finger-pointing and private complaints among some of the ousted directors.
“They have not only given of their treasure, but of their talent to lead, inspire and ensure that we achieve our goals,” said Christine Barney, CEO of rbb Public Relations and the chamber’s chair. “And as recent events have proven, not just the easy goals. But the hard goals as well.”
The event at Miami’s Jungle Island comes two weeks after the Frosts forced the resignation of the 40-member museum board, a showdown sparked by a failed financing plan that left the tax-funded institution at risk of having to send construction crews home. The nonprofit is pursuing a $45 million bailout from Miami-Dade to finish what is now a $305 million new headquarters on the Miami waterfront. The Frosts insisted on a new board in exchange for providing an $11 million loan needed to keep construction moving.
Their $35 million pledge brought the Frosts naming rights for the museum, and they have pledged to give $10 million more. That still puts them way behind Miami-Dade County itself, which has already committed $165 million tied to property taxes for building the museum. Now Mayor Carlos Gimenez is building support to borrow another $45 million from hotel taxes to close a gap in the construction budget. Gimenez wants to cancel a planned $4 million operating subsidy for the museum and use that stream of money to pay the debt service on the borrowed construction funds.
Gimenez presented the Frosts with a county proclamation Wednesday night, calling them “two great pillars of our community.”
“I don’t think you can meet two finer people,” he said, flanked by County Commissioners Sally Heyman and Daniella Levine Cava. “The Frost name is everywhere in this community.”
The museum drama meant awkward timing for the $500-a-plate Sand in My Shoes event, the chamber’s largest fundraiser of the year. It also provided a rare edge for an annual dinner that each year celebrates prominent members of the community. Last year it was United Way CEO Harve Mogul, and the University of Miami’s Donna Shalala the year before that. The last couple to win were Gloria and Emilio Estefan in 2013.
In the Frosts, the chamber selected one of the area’s more high-profile donors. The art museum at Florida International University bears their name, as does the UM music school. A trio of students from the Frost School sang a medley of George Gershwin songs at the chamber event.
UM also recently announced a $100 million pledge from the couple for an unspecified expansion of the school’s science and engineering programs.
Dr. Frost is listed as one of the wealthiest individuals in both Miami and across the country, taking the 129th slot on the Forbes 400 with a net worth estimated at $3.9 billion. The son of a shoe seller in Philadelphia, Frost grew up above his father’s store and married Patricia in 1963 when he was getting started in medicine. When they moved from the Northeast to Miami, he joined the UM faculty and she worked for the Florida Desegregation Center, helping integrate public schools in Overtown.
He later played a central role in founding the dermatology department at the Mount Sinai Medical Center. She spent a career in public education in Miami-Dade, ultimately retiring as the principal of the Henry West Laboratory Elementary School in Coral Gables.
Dr. Frost first made the Forbes list in the mid-1980s while still a practicing dermatologist. It was his side ventures that were making him rich. A series of medical devices gizmos and drug advancements set him on a course as a healthcare magnate.
He’s probably best known for running Ivax, a drug-making company he took over in the late 1980s. It rode high through the mid-1990s, becoming a rare Fortune 500 outpost in the Miami area. But the business began to suffer, leading to layoffs and a grim period that ultimately brought a $7.4 billion sale to Teva Pharmaceutical Industries in a 2005 deal that netted Frost more than $1 billion.
Today, he serves as CEO and chairman of Opko Health, a Miami drug and diagnostics company with a market value of $5 billion