When Gary Nader first approached Miami Dade College to discuss building condo towers and a massive museum across the street from the Freedom Tower, he believed an offer to donate hundreds of works of art would blow college officials away. And last fall, when the college invited developers to compete against him, he was confident a collection he valued at $60 million would put him head and shoulders above any competitor.
But on Thursday, the mercurial art dealer and collector was stunned to learn that his promise to build a massive Latin American art museum on Biscayne Boulevard might not be the selling point he had once imagined. Instead, it might be a problem.
“We have serious concerns about the future feasibility and operational expenses for a facility like a large museum with valuable works of art,” college Provost Rolando Montoya said.
Nader, who had spent the past 18 months telling anyone who would listen that he would create an art museum that would rival any across the globe, was floored. After all, the college had required bidders — all of whom intend to turn a profit by also building some combination of commercial, hotel and residential towers on the site — to submit development proposals that included a 3,000-seat conference center, 1,600-seat theater, and a museum around 100,000 square feet.
“Shall I come to you with a new proposal with no museum? No donation?” Nader said. “I don’t know what to do.”
Shall I come to you with a new proposal with no museum? No donation?
The college’s concerns aren’t a death knell, but appear to be a problem for Nader, whose entire project revolves around a plan to donate his art collection to the college. His Nader + Museu team is currently in a testy competition against Related Group’s ACME proposal and a project by Gregg Covin and architect Chad Oppenheim after the college board of trustees directed a selection committee last month to negotiate with all three.
Covin, the developer behind the 10 Museum Park and 1000 Museum luxury condos, proposed two 57-story towers joined at the top and at the base that would encapsulate the cultural elements sought by the college. The towers would include rental apartments, a 300-room hotel and offices.
Related Group proposed two towers with 350 condos, offices and 100-key boutique hotel. Related also included a 45,000-square-foot museum space, and a 3,020-seat hall that doubles as a conference center and theater through the use of sliding acoustic walls. (Related could have its own complication, with the college making clear Thursday it wants its theater and conference center to be two separate venues.)
Nader wanted to build a seven-level museum with some 238,000 square feet of exhibition space, including an elevated sculpture garden, as well as the conference center and theater. The cultural center would be topped by two luxury condo towers.
We have serious concerns about the future feasibility and operational expenses for a facility like a large museum with valuable works of art.
Rolando Montoya, Miami Dade College provost
Thursday’s session with the developers — which included a college plea for civility — was held to lay out the next steps in the college’s development competition. Consultant Frank Zohn and attorney Suzanne Amaducci-Adams explained that each team would engage in private negotiations toward the end of June. They also made clear that the college will protect itself from potential pitfalls — for instance, should the real estate market bottom out again, a developer go bankrupt, or a team decide it wants to change the scope of the project after it’s approved.
“We don’t want somebody to take over this project and build something different,” Zohn said.
But perhaps the most interesting nugget of information came when Zohn said that the college placed a higher priority on the creation of a theater and conference center than the museum. He mentioned concerns that the college — which is already struggling to keep pace with a billion-dollar backlog of maintenance needs — “doesn’t want to take on significant assets that will be an operating drain in the future.”
Montoya said this was not news and had been mentioned before. But incredulous, Nader asked why the college seemed to be changing positions. Before answering, Montoya joked that he hoped the college would be covered by “sovereign immunity,” a reference to a state law that limits the value of judgments against government institutions.
“With the conference center and theater, the college will have some savings in operational expenses that could be allocated for the future operations of those facilities. In addition, a Miami [Downtown Development Authority] study conducted a couple years ago shows there’s clear need in downtown Miami for a conference center and that it would be relatively easy on the times the college isn’t using the facilities to rent it to external parties,” he said. “The museum is different. It’s very costly to operate.”
Each team has until July 7 to submit a revised proposal. An evaluation session is scheduled for July 12.