Visual Arts

Pérez Art Museum Miami construction nearing finish line

Just about all that’s missing is the art.

Well, and some sealant, wood floors, light fixtures, paint and parts of the wraparound deck with views of Biscayne Bay and downtown Miami. Not to mention the restrooms, restaurant, bar, gift shop, hanging gardens and functional front door.

But more than two and a half years after breaking ground, the Pérez Art Museum Miami is remarkably close to being finished — more than 90 percent completed — and on track for a December debut.

As for that art: installation on some works will begin in mid-September.

“Every time I go over there, there’s some kind of miraculous transformation,” said museum director Thom Collins.

The easternmost part of the Museum Park campus, south of the MacArthur Causeway and jutting up against Biscayne Bay, now looks more like the intended Stiltsville-inspired building than a construction site, though a crane, supports and scaffolding remain.

The neighboring Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, which broke ground in February 2012, is also rising. The planetarium structure is more than halfway done, and the third-floor slab is about to go in. Within the next few months, the 30-foot-diameter oculus, or window to view the bottom of the shark-filled Gulf Stream Aquarium, will travel by ship into PortMiami and make its way to the museum site.

“It’s going really well,” said Gillian Thomas, the science museum’s president and CEO. “I’m delighted with the progress.”

While the $275 million science center is expected to open in 2015, an actual date won’t be announced until the annual gala in March.

Of the $110 million private fundraising goal, more than $70 million has been pledged to the Frost museum, with more major gifts expected this year. Miami-Dade County bonds are funding $165 million.

The art museum also expects to make more announcements about fundraising this year, but so far has announced that it has met 85 percent of its $220 million goal. That includes $100 million in county support.

“You pick the low-hanging fruit first, so it’s never easy,” said Aaron Podhurst, chairman of the museum’s board of trustees. “The fact that it’s so beautiful is extremely helpful.”

Inside the Herzog & de Meuron-designed museum, crates are stacked on the floor of one of the galleries that will house artist Ai Weiwei’s works, one of the exhibitions that will open the new space. A maze of bicycles, also from the Chinese dissident, will rest at the top of the wide staircase that doubles as an auditorium.

Spaces range from a small, dark cubby perfect for watching video installations to a gallery with a 24-foot ceiling designated for an architectural sculpture by Monika Sosnowska. Most of the areas have views of the outdoors; third-floor offices and educational spaces open onto the breezy deck.

The wood trellis under the roof will soon be finished, after which the framework for nearly 70 hanging gardens can be installed. White seating areas that also function as planters (which Collins said have been compared to hot tubs and spacecraft) dot the plaza connecting the two museums.

As a longtime supporter of the museum, two-time president of the board and chair of many planning and construction committees, Rose Ellen Greene said the progress is almost beyond belief.

“There were a lot more naysayers than yes-sayers,” said Greene, now a member of the board of trustees. In the early days, she said, detractors questioned: “ ‘Can Miami build this wonderful Museum Park?’ I always thought they could, and they are.”

While the project is visible to anyone driving by the site (and a live camera view is updated every 15 minutes on the museum website), donors to the building campaign are expected to get a sneak peek in November, and a members and press preview is set for Dec. 3. The general public will get their first chance to check out the new building on Dec. 4; admission will be free through Dec. 8 for Miami-Dade residents.

“It’s not going to be a bunch of private events,” Collins said. “I want the message to be clear, that it’s really the public’s institution.”

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