Art collector Gary Nader and condo developer Jorge Pérez have emerged as the leading competitors to build a downtown theater, conference center and museum for Miami Dade College.
The two men — both prominent members of Miami’s fine arts movement — front development teams that won a key endorsement Monday from a committee vetting proposals to build a college cultural center next to the Freedom Tower. Faced with four different visions for the 2.6-acre site, the committee urged the college’s board of trustees to authorize simultaneous negotiations with Nader + Museu LLP and Pérez’s Related Group.
A decision by the trustees is expected as early as April 19.
By choosing to conduct dual negotiations, the college would pit Pérez, who is already affiliated with the Pérez Art Museum Miami, against Nader, a collector of Latin American art who says he’ll donate a $60 million collection to the college. Following the results of Monday’s meeting, in which his team was ranked second to Related Group, Nader lashed out and said Pérez only wants to stop the opening of a higher-quality institution down the street.
“He puts his name on a museum that is empty. He hasn't done anything for that museum,” said Nader, criticizing the $20 million in art Pérez donated to PAMM in addition to a $20 million cash gift as insufficient. “He's the worst thing that happened to culture in this town because most of the important people in that museum walked away when he put his name there. And now he's trying to stop us.”
Pérez said in an interview late Monday night that Nader’s comments about him and PAMM were “irresponsible” and “uncalled for,” and he criticized the Herald for publishing them.
“I'm not going to sit here getting into a punching match with Mr. Nader. It's beneath me,” said Pérez, who defended PAMM’s success. “You should let the facts speak for themselves. It's been 40 years I've been in this community doing things that I think are correct. To make statements like that are just not right. It's journalism not fit for you guys.”
It was Nader’s unsolicited proposal to develop a faculty parking lot at 520 Biscayne Blvd. that launched the college’s competition. Nader, in a team with FR-EE Architects, Sofran Group’s Roberto Rocha and Brasilinvest, offered to create a museum with more than 150,000 square feet of exhibition space, a sculpture garden, a 3,000-seat conference center and a 1,600-seat theater designed by Emilio Estefan.
In order to make the project profitable, the team included two 48-story condo towers. The college, after deeding the land to the developer, would own and operate the cultural center through a public-private partnership, and receive a $20 million cash infusion and a portion of condo sales profits.
The college, as required under state law, allowed other competitors to match and best Nader’s offer. Three developers responded, including Gregg Covin Development/Oppenheim Architecture and Pi Art Tech and Trade Center at MDC, ranked third and fourth, respectively. Related, in partnership with prominent local design firm Arquitectonica, was ranked first Monday by the committee, with Nader a close second.
Related proposed a smaller cultural center than Nader, saying the market wouldn’t accommodate the larger venues. Instead, they proposed to build a complex with a 45,000-square-foot museum, a sculpture garden, a 3,020-seat hall, and a 33,750-square-foot multi-functional performance space that can shrink and grow through the use of sliding acoustic walls and blackout curtains.
The project includes a boutique hotel and a 75-story condo tower and 39-story office tower. The college would own the cultural center and receive a portion of condo sales.
Should the Miami Dade College board of trustees agree with the selection committee’s recommendation, MDC provost and selection committee member Rolando Montoya said the committee would begin negotiations and hope to select a finalist quickly. Covin’s team was included as an alternate should discussions with one of the front-running teams prove fruitless.
“We will initiate conversations with Related and Nader and on the first couple of meetings with them we might feel if a marriage is possible or not,” he said. “We will quickly determine with which one we want to go deeper in conversations.”