Miami-Dade County

Miami Dade College museum competition ‘tainted,’ art dealer says

A rendering of Gregg Covin and Chad Oppenheim’s proposed Miami Dade College cultural center
A rendering of Gregg Covin and Chad Oppenheim’s proposed Miami Dade College cultural center

Related Group should be banned from building Miami Dade College’s proposed Biscayne Boulevard cultural center because of revelations of a personal relationship and private meetings between a company executive and an attorney advising the college on the project, a team led by art collector Gary Nader has argued.

In a letter submitted to the college, attorneys for Nader + Museu LLP say that Bilzin Sumberg attorney Suzanne Amaducci-Adams and Related executive Lissette Calderon violated a procurement “cone of silence” by meeting several times at Calderon’s home. The contact between the two women was documented by private investigators — their employer a mystery — who twice tailed Amaducci-Adams to Calderon’s house.

The college revealed the issue last week in a memo and investigative report by former U.S. attorney Roberto Martinez that appeared to clear the two women of any wrongdoing. But they also said any bidder that believed the competition had been tainted could file a sworn statement “with documented evidence,” opening the door for Nader + Museu to argue the opposite.

“In light of the wrongdoings exposed by the college and published in its report, it is Museu’s opinion that Bilzin be recused from this process and that Related be dismissed,” GrayRobinson attorneys Bill Riley and Pedro Villa wrote in a letter delivered Friday to the college.

Related General Counsel Betsy McCoy fired back Monday afternoon, saying the company has held itself to only the highest ethical standards and accusing Nader of trying to tank the college’s solicitation.

“The letter of Mr. Nader’s counsel is an attempt to derail the development process by waging an unwarranted and unsubstantiated attack on Related. Nothing, absolutely nothing, in the facts points to any improper communication by Related,” McCoy said. “There is no impropriety or appearance of impropriety because, as former US Attorney Mr. Martinez’s investigation proves, all disclosures required or expected of Related were made.”

The college launched a public solicitation late last year to find a private partner to build out its faculty parking lot at 520 Biscayne Blvd. As is typical in government solicitations, the college imposed a procurement gag order over college officials, representatives, and members of bidding teams. The cone of silence forbids discussing the solicitation outside of publicly noticed meetings and frowns upon private contact.

But the women say they never discussed the college’s competitive solicitation in private, and Amaducci-Adams’ visits to Calderon’s home were simply pick-ups and drop-offs for her daughter, who is a friend and schoolmate of Calderon’s child. College Provost Rolando Montoya said Amaducci-Adams revealed the relationship almost immediately after she was retained as a consultant by the college, and he knew there would be occasional social meetings.

Still, the college hired Martinez to investigate the issue and the college’s board of trustees met June 3 to weigh the report. The trustees reportedly agreed to continue on with the project, with the continued participation of Bilzin Sumberg and Related Group. Meanwhile, they opened the door for bidders to contest the process by Friday. Nader + Museu was the only team to do so.

Roman Martinez, procurement director for the college, said lawyers are reviewing the letter “and will provide a response shortly.”

Developer Gregg Covin, who has teamed up with architect Chad Oppenheim to compete for the bid, said teams have been asked by the college to sign an affidavit no later than Wednesday swearing that they didn’t hire the private investigators due to concerns that one of the investigators may have improperly contacted one of the college trustees. Covin, Nader and Related Group have all publicly denied involvement with the private investigators.

Nader + Museu’s protest adds yet another layer of intrigue to an already complicated solicitation to build a theater, conference center and museum on a college faculty parking lot directly south of the Freedom Tower and across from PortMiami. Each of the three teams wants to build some combination of the public improvements, plus retail and condo, hotel or apartment towers.

In conjunction with their protest, Nader + Museu’s attorneys filed a lengthy public records request and argued that they should be allowed to amend their protest as new information becomes available. They’re seeking information on everything from Amaducci-Adams’ initial disclosure to the college to who was at a dinner at the Coral Reef Yacht Club that the two women attended with their daughters.

Bilzin Sumberg says Amaducci-Adams “has acted professionally and responsibly throughout the entire procurement process.”