Miami-Dade County

Vizcaya Museum would be privatized under Miami-Dade plan

Miami-Dade’s Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, pictured here, would become a non-profit under a plan to have it exit the county bureaucracy.
Miami-Dade’s Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, pictured here, would become a non-profit under a plan to have it exit the county bureaucracy.

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens would leave Miami-Dade’s bureaucracy under a plan to privatize the tourist attraction, a key part of a reorganization aimed at boosting revenue.

The lavish winter home of early 20th century industrialist James Deering is officially an arm of Miami-Dade County government, with a staff of county employees. Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s administration wants to transfer operations to a nonprofit, establishing the kind of arrangement already in place for the county-owned Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and Pérez Art Museum Miami.

“We really want to grow the place,” said Joel Hoffman, the museum’s long-time director and a county employee.

A memo released this week by Gimenez’s cultural chief, Michael Spring, said Miami-Dade would maintain ownership of the Vizcaya grounds, buildings and furnishings, as well as establish rules for public access to the historic compound that opened in 1916.

The 70 or so county employees at Vizcaya would be encouraged to join the nonprofit, the memo said, but no details were provided. The memo describes a reorganization based on a consultant’s recommendation, and cites “shared concerns” for Vizcaya’s future. A Vizcaya planning document calls for the transfer to happen by October.

Miami-Dade is budgeted to provide a $2.5 million subsidy this year for Vizcaya, about a third of its $7.5 million operating budget. County support is bound to continue under a new arrangement. Arsht, PAMM and other cultural facilities rely on county subsidies to balance their budgets. The Gimenez proposal next goes to the county commission, which can approve or reject it.

A consultant’s report, other internal documents and Hoffman himself describe a string of downsides for Vizcaya functioning as an arm of Miami-Dade government.

As a county agency, Vizcaya must purchase goods and sign contractors through the county’s complex procurement process as well as hire employees through its human-resources system. All of Vizcaya’s employees are county workers, some governed by union contracts. A consultant’s recommendation urges Vizcaya to free itself from government open-records laws and the requirement that board members submit financial-disclosure forms.

Vizcaya wants to raise money by selling sponsorship and naming opportunities throughout the campus. Hoffman ultimately reports to the county mayor, and answers to a pair of internal boards — one in charge of fund-raising, one overseeing programming and operations. “Honestly, [there is] a lot of bureaucracy that is not necessarily well-tailored to a relatively small cultural organization,” he said.

Without an independent board running Vizcaya, the institution also can’t leverage the board seats into donations the way similar museums do. “It’s a psychological issue,” Spring said. Without county oversight, “the board feels empowered” to both give more and drum up other donors.

Vizcaya is gearing up to expand across South Miami Avenue onto a part of the original Vizcaya campus that includes the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, which is moving downtown. But funds aren’t in place to create the facilities and programs Vizcaya wants. The latest Vizcaya budget lists $17 million needed for the effort, part of a $48 million list of unfunded needs — including about $30 million for renovating the main grounds and house.

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