The new Frost Science Museum, which pushed back its debut to this spring amid a fiscal crunch that required a public bailout last year, is not yet ready to announce a firm opening date, institution administrators and Miami-Dade County officials say.
But they say construction work on the museum’s new $305 million home in downtown Miami’s Museum Park is about finished and remains on track for a spring opening. A decision on a precise date will come in the next few weeks, Frost Science president Frank Steslow said in an interview Wednesday.
“The building is progressing really, really well,” Steslow said, adding later: “We want to be careful that when we announce a date, we can hit it.”
The museum had expected to apply in December for a temporary certificate of occupancy from the city of Miami, which would allow staff to begin moving in and visitors to circulate through the building, but held off because some exterior life-safety elements, mainly terraces that would be used for emergency exits, were not finished, Steslow said. That work is “wrapping up” and the delay in obtaining the TCO won’t affect operations or the opening date, he said.
Otherwise, he said, interior spaces and exhibition galleries “are pretty much done” and exhibits are being installed. The museum aquarium’s tanks are filled with water and functioning well, accompanying plantings are underway and the aquatic wildlife that will fill them are in a nearby facility waiting out a quarantine period before moving into their new home in the next four to six weeks, Steslow said.
The museum should be ready for its TCO later in January or February, said Michael Spring, Miami-Dade’s director of cultural affairs. He expects an informal opening to happen around March, with a grand opening to follow. Steslow said the soft opening would consist of tours by invited school groups and nearby residents, among others, over a period of one to two weeks.
As it gets the building ready for opening, the 65-year-old privately run nonprofit has also made progress on rebuilding its board of directors with the appointment of several new members, and is getting ready to announce some $7.5 million in new gifts to support museum operations, Steslow said. The privately raised operating money is a key element in a complex deal that salvaged the project after the museum revealed that a shortfall in fundraising left it with insuffucient money to finish construction.
Most board members were dismissed last year in the bailout agreement, which put philanthropist Phillip Frost and his wife, Patricia, the top private contributors to the new building after pledging $45 million, in control of the governing body.
The county, which had put up $165 million in voter-approved bond proceeds toward the project, then agreed to borrow $49 million to fill the shortfall so construction could be completed. That public funding replaced a $4 million annual operating subsidy that the county had pledged to the museum, which now must raise that amount privately and has agreed not to ask taxpayers for additional funding.
Steslow said the museum, which had to cut $20 million from its construction and exhibition budget as part of the bailout deal, will soon announce new temporary and permanent exhibits secured with help from the Frosts, who have relationships with institutions like the Smithsonian.
“In general, we couldn’t be more pleased with the way things are going,” Steslow said.
Steslow, formerly the museum’s chief operating officer, became its top administrator last year after the retirement of Gillian Thomas, who was brought in from England to manage development and construction of the new building.