Fabiola Santiago

Fabiola Santiago: Miami millionaires, the new Frost Museum of Science needs you

Aerial of Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science shows 75 percent completion, but the museum needs $45 million to open by fall.
Aerial of Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science shows 75 percent completion, but the museum needs $45 million to open by fall. Courtesy, Frost Science Museum

Where are Miami’s millionaires and billionaires when you need them?

Not where the city could use their generosity right now — stepping up to back the completion of the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science. And perhaps more importantly, committing to contribute to its future.

It’s tough to build a quasi-public space in this city if it isn’t a sports stadium.

I know people who’d rather pay for season tickets to the Miami Heat than secure a solid roof over their heads. That’s how high team spirit runs, how strong the fanaticism and financial support for sports.

Not so much for art, culture and education — the stuff that builds strong communities. The history of how difficult it was to assemble the private-public partnerships that brought us the Arsht Center and the Perez Art Museum is a testament to where we place our priorities.

The Frost Science is where those institutions once were — over their heads and in need of expertise, turn-around know-how, and funds. It’s a mess, really, as the museum faces the last leg of construction with less private support than anticipated, higher construction bills, and arbitration with the initial contractor, who was fired.

The $307 million project, including a state-of-the-art planetarium and aquarium, is 75 percent completed, the museum says, but needs $45 million from the county to open by fall.

The Frost is working with the county, which has spent $160 million in construction costs from general obligation funds, to get the emergency completion money. Funds would come from hotel and convention taxes the county would have contributed in the next 20 years. In return, county government would have greater oversight over the museum operations and representation on its board.

It’s a risky, but necessary deal — and county commissioners should support it, as Mayor Carlos Gimenez has said he does. The museum desperately needs intervention. The lack of private financial support for a project so in-line with Miami’s goal to be a hub for technology and innovation is troubling. But of $103 million in pledges, only $47 million has been received, according to the museum. That could point to lack of confidence in the executive committee and board that run the institution and fundraise. Revamp the board and bring in heavy-hitters.

The Frost isn’t just another cultural institution in need of a taxpayer bailout. With PAMM and Arsht, it’s the third major piece in the ambitious vision of Miami as cultural destination.

“The key people who have huge resources need to lead the way,” Gilliam Thomas, CEO and museum president, tells me.

For the deep-pocketed, there are naming rights up for grabs for the multi-floored aquarium, the innovation lab focused on invention, and the exploration center. Financial support is also needed for big installations — like the water, light, energy and time exhibits — and for the program that funds free entry for schools and community groups. Part of the county deal is that the museum will not ask for operational funds — and I don’t see that happening unless the entire community steps up.

If you’ve seen the reaction of a child, the joy and anticipation as the planetarium dome comes into view, you’d open your wallets, Miamians.

But first things first: Let’s get the Frost on track and under better financial control.

Support comes with trust.