Long-awaited performing arts center price heading for county approval
By Victor Cruz
With a new, lower construction price of $255 million, the planned performing arts center now needs county commission approval of its budget on Sept. 11 and for the City of Miami to OK permits so work can begin Oct. 1, arts officials said.
Final building changes were outlined Tuesday by Steven T. Halverson, president and CEO of Haskell Co., one of three firms in the consortium hired to construct the project. The cuts were detailed during a Performing Arts Center Trust meeting.
The builders had until last week to cut $24 million off what was a $279 million construction budget presented to the county in December.
But if the county approves the most recent cost estimates, the project will total about $334 million after adding $79 million for items other than the actual buildings that will straddle Biscayne Boulevard between Northeast 13th and 14th streets. These costs include land purchases, insurance and consulting fees.
Performing Arts Center Builders, which also includes Odebrecht and Ellis-Don construction firms, have been working with project Director Gail Thompson since July 17 to cut the final $9 million in costs. Once the contract is approved, any unforeseen construction price increases on the project will be the responsibility of the builders, Ms. Thompson said.
In the most recent cost-cutting measures, more than $3 million was saved from six building changes, which are:
nNo interior finishes for the Sears Tower: $470,143;
nNo exterior awnings: $270,300;
nDefer purchase of a portable sound system: $303,852;
nDefer automatic lifts for a sound mixer and a choral riser: $557,914;
nUsing a standard and less costly elevator design: $1.1 million;
nReducing food-service equipment: $421,900.
Other funds were saved by trimming the builder's fee from $18 million to $15.4 million, reducing construction staff costs from $30 million to $27.6 million and increasing the state sales tax savings by $1 million. Additional savings of less than $1 million each included lowering the construction manager's payments, raising insurance credits and cutting a permit-allowance fee, Mr. Halverson said.
Between December and July, Ms. Thompson said, about $14 million of the $24 million that was above what the county approved spending was cut through value-engineering changes, such as using brushed aluminum hardware instead of stainless steel, and bargaining for more competitive bids from the subcontractors.
"I was surprised at the final changes after the draconian changes that had been proposed in July," Florida Grand Opera General Director Robert Heuer said Tuesday after the meeting. "We are really pleased with the way it worked out with no substantial changes to the way the building functions acoustically."
And Mr. Heuer said that one of the cuts - standardizing elevator cabs - would result in greater capacity and mitigate the concern that the elevators were too small and might not adequately transport guests to the center.
He said the elevators had been a concern of the opera as well as of the four other groups that will use the facility: Miami City Ballet, Florida Philharmonic Orchestra, New World Symphony and the Concert Association of Florida.
Stan Arkin, Performing Arts Center Trust construction committee chairman, said some deferred and deleted items might be added later if state funds come through.
The trust is asking the state legislature to approve a bill during its next session that would begin a four-year process to add $10 million to the arts center project. During the first year, Mr. Arkin said, $2.5 million could go toward the purchase of deferred equipment.
State Sen. Ron Silver, who attended the meeting, said that he is more optimistic about the bill passing than he is about the state's developing budget climate. He said trends suggest the center may face stiffer competition for arts funding than what was anticipated.
The fund-raising arm of the complex, the Performing Arts Center Foundation, has raised $48 million toward construction and design contracts, $20 million of which is in hand, said foundation Director Nancy Herstand. The other $28 million is committed, but as yet uncollected.
She said the foundation is required to make $63.2 million in cash payments to the county by the time the center is completed in fall 2004. A $1.8 million payment is due to the county next month, with another $20 million expected in two years, Ms. Herstand said Monday during a radio news program.
For patrons visiting the center, officials plan to make use of 1,100 parking spaces next to the opera house run by Hank Sopher's Quik Park on land leased from the Miami-Dade Board of Education, said Performing Arts Center Trust spokesman John Caliste.
He said another three lots owned by Knight Ridder and amounting to 825 spaces will be available next to the Concert Hall and another 125 spaces can be used in the Omni building.
As for scheduling shows, a search to replace interim arts center Executive Director Michael Spring will begin soon after county approval is reached on the budget, said Parker Thomson of the trust.
Mr. Spring, director of the county's Cultural Affairs Council, said he supports the search for a full-time, permanent director.
The arts center has already added to its staff a mechanical engineer, Oscar Behncke, who previously worked for Oceania I condominium. His position will begin as a county job, then continue as operations manager under the arts center trust after construction is complete, Ms. Thompson said.