Even as he looks forward to the 2016 opening of Miami’s new science wonderland, Mark Bennett fondly remembers the day he was surprised by the area’s infatuation with space.
Mars was making its closest approach to Earth in 60,000 years on the nights of Aug. 26 and 27, 2003. And residents of Miami-Dade — thousands of them — flocked to the Miami Science Museum, where Bennett is manager of the Planetarium and guest experiences, to get the best view.
“It was crazy; they were, like, lining up down U.S. 1,” he said. “They kept coming and coming.”
The museum stayed open until 4 a.m., hours later than planned, Bennett said.
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Memories like that and so many more have Bennett feeling a mix of emotions as the museum, now known as the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, gets ready to leave its longtime Coconut Grove home in preparation for a move to fancy new digs in downtown Miami’s Museum Park.
“I am very nostalgic,” he said. “I literally spent 27 years inside of this building — actually a little bit more than that.”
To bid the building at 3280 S. Miami Ave. goodbye, the museum has scheduled a series of events for August, including two nights of “the best of the best of the laser shows” on Aug. 7 and 8; a members-only hour at 9 a.m. on the morning of Aug. 23; an evening of Science Art Cinema on Aug. 29 and free admission for kids with paid adults on Aug. 29 and 30. On the final day, Aug. 30, the museum will hold demonstrations and shows and stay open until 10 p.m.
“We hope that everyone will come out for one last visit to tour the museum and experience it for one last time,” Bennett said.
Programming will continue in the community after the facility closes, and the new $300 million home is scheduled to open in summer of 2016. The opening date has not been set, but employees are already looking forward to the possibilities at the new space.
“We’re going to be able to do things that we never even imagined doing here,” Bennett said. The Planetarium, for example, will feature a full-dome projection system with technology that will allow reproductions of the night sky and display footage captured by NASA, video from inside the human body or images from under the sea.
While the construction site adjacent to the Pérez Art Museum Miami is still very much a work in progress, some major milestones have been completed. The Planetarium dome is topped off, though the building still needs to be sealed. The giant Gulf Stream aquarium took shape in December during a more than 25-hour concrete pour.
During a tour of the site on Wednesday, more than three dozen workers were spread on top of the Living Core aquarium area, working on the roof. Inside the Planetarium, seats were being installed. In the future home of the Baptist Health People & Science Gallery, one slightly sunken area already is reserved for an energy dance floor.
Staircases, ramps and walls are up — but alas, still no air conditioning or elevators. “Be careful with the rebar” and “Watch yourself” were common refrains from tour guides.
“It’s going really well,” said museum president and CEO Gillian Thomas in an interview. “There’s a lot happened. Every time I go, there’s new pipes and pumps.”
A waterproof membrane still needs to be installed in the 500,000-gallon Gulf Stream tank before the 30-foot-wide window is installed at the bottom in the fall.
Fundraising is also edging toward its goal. In addition to $165 million in county bond money, the museum has raised another $103 million from private donations, foundations and corporations. The biggest chunk of that private money comes from entrepreneur Phillip Frost and his wife Patricia, a retired educator, who have donated a total of $45 million.
The museum’s goal is to have a total of $300 million — “or even keep going,” Thomas said. “There’s always things we want to add on.”