Fabiola Santiago

In battle of egos for Miami Dade College land, it’s Gary Nader vs. Jorge M. Pérez

A rendering of Related Group’s proposal for the Miami Dade College 520 Biscayne Blvd. site, as designed by Arquitectonica.
A rendering of Related Group’s proposal for the Miami Dade College 520 Biscayne Blvd. site, as designed by Arquitectonica. Courtesy Miami Dade College

Listen to the egos of two grown men vying to overshadow Miami’s iconic Freedom Tower with two sky-reaching condo towers and a massive cultural complex — a project being enabled by the most unlikely institution, Miami Dade College.

In an interview with the Miami Herald, art dealer Gary Nader called his competitor in the venture, condo developer Jorge M. Pérez, “the worst thing that happened to culture in this town.”

His nasty hyperbole sought to put down Pérez’s $45 million donation in cash and art during a critical moment in the construction of Miami Art Museum’s stellar waterfront building in exchange for naming rights to Pérez Art Museum Miami.

In turn, Pérez called Nader’s comments “irresponsible and uncalled for,” which they might have been, but Pérez didn’t stop there. He then lectured the Herald for publishing them. “It’s not journalism fit for you guys.”

As if he was a College of Journalism dean and his role was to decide what good journalism is and isn’t. Nader is a bully; Pérez doesn’t understand the concept of a watchdog media. The art cocktail circuit might make you think so, but journalists aren’t all society page pleasers.

For MDC, it’s not exactly exemplary behavior to showcase for students. But this is what happens when an educational institution gets into bed with developers choking Miami with condo towers — and, despite a glut, yearning for more.

It may be an alien concept here, but not every inch of acreage needs to be built up, and up, and up — and, certainly, not for the sake of indulging egos, financial interests, and legacy-seeking at the expense of an institution’s core values.

The 2.6 acres surrounding the Freedom Tower that Nader and Pérez are swooning over are used as much-needed parking lots for college staff and events. MDC wants to turn them into a mammoth MDC-run museum, conference center and cultural complex. In return, MDC would allow the developer to top it all with 75-story luxury condo towers they could sell.

A vetting committee recommended that the Board of Trustees select Nader and Pérez as finalists this week — and although some committee members expressed sensitivity to the issue, the mammoth project will still overshadow what has become our Ellis Island, our Statue of Liberty.

MDC officials, strangely silent, said they could not comment.

In 2004, MDC fought to obtain custody of the Freedom Tower located on prime water-view land by its downtown Miami campus. The tower now houses offices for prestigious arts programs, a museum of art and design, and serves as a venue to receive presidents and other dignitaries.

“That’s our shining armor and to surround it with structures does Miami a disfavor,” lawyer and civic activist Rafael Peñalver tells me. He fought alongside Dade Heritage Trust to save the Mediterranean-style tower from being dwarfed by development by owners Terra Group. “How many times do we have to stand up to save this symbol? We’re substituting heritage for economic interest.”

Indeed.

This is a misguided effort to compete with area universities and cultural institutions for grandeur by a college that’s already the best of its kind in the nation.

Nader or Pérez? That’s not the question.

The real issue is the college’s role in the development of luxury condo towers.

Educators and developers make strange bedfellows.

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