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Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden gets $4 million cultural donation

A pair of philanthropic New Yorkers with a part-time residence in Miami Beach have given $4 million to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden for a new cultural facility that will allow the famed horticultural center to expand its fruitful forays into live music and big-name art presentations.

The gift from Adam R. Rose and Peter R. McQuillan represents a significant boost to the garden’s efforts over the past several years to increase attendance, membership and attention by branching out well beyond its traditional horticultural offerings into education and the arts.

It will finance construction of a 3,000-square-foot, multi-purpose building and provide for the new center’s upkeep, Fairchild officials say. The new building, which will bear the donors’ names, will be erected next to the visitors’ center at the nonprofit garden’s main entrance off Old Cutler Road in Coral Gables.

“Botanical gardens all over the world understand that to be a beautiful green space is not enough,’’ said Rose, who is also on the board of the New York Botanical Garden. “The thing that really grabbed us was the notion that you might come to Fairchild because it’s sort of a park, but you might stay because of something else — that you might come for a gardening class and discover chamber music or an art show.’’

Or vice-versa.

Outdoor exhibits of work by renowned artists such as Fernando Botero, glassmaker Dale Chihuly and sculptor Mark di Suvero are credited with drawing new visitors to the expansive, 83-acre garden, created in 1938 to promote the understanding and conservation of tropical plants from all over the world. Such rotating exhibits, as well as a program of concerts, have supplemented a year-round program of popular festivals focusing on orchids, mangos, bromeliads and chocolate, and have contributed to a high rate of renewals from members, who now number 45,000, Fairchild officials say.

But without an indoor arts center, the garden has had to pass up opportunities to exhibit works on paper by Botero and pop artist Roy Lichtenstein to accompany their outdoor exhibits. The new hall will also allow presentation of intimate chamber music and other musical offerings best suited for the indoors, said garden chairman Bruce Greer.

“It will be fully utilized from the day it opens,’’ Greer said. “Culturally and socially, families from all walks of life come to Fairchild. We’re introducing arts and culture to people who are not out seeking it. We have the opportunity to introduce people to chamber music, good art and poetry in a setting that’s very welcoming.’’

That “cross-pollination,’’ as Greer described it, proved a potent lure to Rose and McQuillan, who in New York have supported both horticulture and garden design as well as the arts. Since they began spending time in South Florida about three years ago, the couple also has made donations to, among others, Vizcaya, the Wolfsonian-FIU museum, the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and North Miami’s Museum of Contemporary Art, where they underwrote a popular live-jazz series. They also donated a restored 1955 Dodge police cruiser to the Miami Beach Police Department.

Rose, a real-estate executive whose parents helped underwrite the Rose Center for Earth and Space at New York’s Museum of Natural History, and McQuillan, a retired New York police sergeant, said the Fairchild gift is their largest to date.

“Fairchild was a natural fit for us. It turned out that Fairchild was so well run, so thoughtful and poised for growth, it was just irresistible,’’ McQullian said.

Rose said he and his partner are not done. They believe they are on the front wave of an “explosion’’ of donors contributing to a plethora of new or expanding cultural institutions in South Florida, citing recent, even larger gifts to the Arsht, the New World Symphony and the planned new Miami Science Museum.

“We have had a great time, we have met terrific people, and we hope to continue,’’ Rose said.

Greer said he expects the new arts center to break ground before the end of the year and open 18 months after that. Designed by Coral Gables architect Alberto Cordoves, the one-story Mediterranean-style building is meant to blend in with its garden setting and its neighbor, the award-winning visitors’ center by Duany Plater-Zyberk. Greer called it “beautifully restrained.’’