It’s baffling when an opportunity arises for taxpayers to benefit from the generosity of a wealthy investor and art patron – and the city of Miami acts like it doesn’t care.
That appears to be what happened to Miami resident and successful hedge-fund manager Bruce Berkowitz, founder of Fairholme Capital Management.
Mr. Berkowitz wanted to build an Arquitectonica-designed office building, but not just any building — an area-unique, anvil-shaped 10-story headquarters for his business and also his foundation on a lot on 26th Street and Biscayne Boulevard in Edgewater. The exterior of the nearly windowless building will be a new type of concrete embedded with glass fiber optics that renders it translucent. At night, the building should glow. Yes, grandiose plans, but all privately funded.
The perk for the public was that it was Mr. Berkowitz’s intention to install in two massive sculptural modern art masterpieces by art stars Richard Serra and James Turrell, which the investment manager purchased and are valued at $30 million, in the lobby. The pieces could only improve Miami’s art cred.
All Mr. Berkowitz needed from the city of Miami was zoning approval. He was willing to bend, and to amend his architectural plans to conform to the Miami 21 zoning code. No problem. But Mr. Berkowitz told the Miami Herald he got the bum’s rush from the city. After months of willingly trying and failing to get a clear-cut response from the city as to whether he could proceed, a frustrated Mr. Berkowitz has pulled the plug on the project. “All work has been suspended,” he told the Editorial Board Thursday.
Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, whose district includes Edgewater, is now taking a personal interest in rescuing the effort. “I don’t want to lose this project,” he said.
Mr. Sarnoff said the project’s cancellation would be a big loss. We agree. To miss out on being the city that displays these art pieces, especially during Art Basel, would be a mistake. Best of all, it would not cost local residents a penny.
“I think things will get back on track,” Mr. Sarnoff told the board. But Mr. Berkowitz vehemently disagrees. “There are no ongoing discussions and the only thing I’ve heard from the city is that I’ve been fined $300,000 for the way we cleared and secured the lot.”
If Miami wants to be a world-class city, it can’t commit a blunder like this. It should try to save this enhancement to the local art scene, not to mention beautification of Biscayne Boulevard.