Miami-Dade County

Frost Science Museum behind on permits but insists May 8 opening still on track

Frost Science Museum set to open in May

Take a look at the Frost Museum's giant aquarium on March 3, 2017.
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Take a look at the Frost Museum's giant aquarium on March 3, 2017.

As it races to meet a May 8 opening date, the Frost Museum of Science has delayed its target for securing a key occupancy permit but remains confident the new $305 million facility will debut as scheduled on the Miami waterfront.

The tax-funded museum needed a bailout from Miami-Dade last year to keep construction crews on the site, so executives at the nonprofit face even more pressure to finish the building on time. This week, the museum expects to miss another deadline for receiving a temporary occupancy permit from Miami, a go-ahead that’s required to hit the May 8 unveiling.

“The date for the public opening of the Museum remains dependent on the receipt of the Certificate of Occupancy by City of Miami building officials,” Mayor Carlos Gimenez wrote in a Tuesday memo to county commissioners.

The date for the public opening of the Museum remains dependent on the receipt of the Certificate of Occupancy by City of Miami building officials.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez

That memo describes the project as 96 percent finished as of the start of last month. But it also detailed a string of missed targets for the Miami permit, with the museum most recently scrapping a Feb. 14 deadline and moving it to Saturday.

A Frost spokesman, Joseph Quiñones, said in an email Tuesday that the latest target for a temporary certificate of occupancy won’t be met either.

“That is no longer the case,” Quiñones wrote of the Saturday target, as “inspections with our contractor are still in process.”

Quiñones said the permit, which declares a building ready for the public to enter, will be secured in time for the opening less than 30 days away. “We’re still scheduled to open May 8,” he said.

Officials at Miami’s Building Department weren’t immediately available for comment.

Frost is slated to complete Miami’s new Museum Park, already home to the Pérez Art Museum Miami. The science museum, relocated from its longtime location in Coconut Grove, is expected to be a top tourist attraction downtown, with its signature planetarium and a 500,000-gallon aquarium overlooking Biscayne Bay.

When it broke ground in early 2012, the science museum talked of an opening in 2014. But construction woes, included a fired contractor in 2014, added years to the process. Meanwhile, the museum was falling behind fundraising targets to make up the gap between the construction tab and the $165 million that Miami-Dade voters authorized borrowing to help build it.

The failed capital campaign left the museum short on cash last year, and Gimenez announced a rescue package that diverted a planned $4 million annual operating subsidy into a one-time payment of $45 million.

Early last year, museum officials planned an opening in late 2016. By summer, the debut had moved to the first quarter of 2017. Last month, the museum’s board set its first firm opening date: May 8, 2017.

Nail-biting construction deadlines are hardly new in Miami, and the county official charged with monitoring the project said he’s not concerned about minor delays at the tail end of a five-year building effort.

“The museum’s staff feels confident the job will be done in time for the May 8 opening,” said Michael Spring, the Gimenez deputy who oversees the county’s cultural and recreational agencies.

Part of the mayor’s memo notified commissioners of higher construction costs, as the planned completion drifted from February to mid-April and beyond.

“We’re reporting that some things didn’t happen on schedule. It’s going to take a little longer to finish,” said Spring, whose title is senior adviser to Gimenez. “It’s not a significant issue because there’s room in the contingency [budget] to cover it.”

Audrey Edmonson, a county commissioner who sits on the Frost board, said she’s been briefed on the museum’s progress and has no concerns.

“There are no delays,” she said. “The fish are in the tanks and everything.”