Buffman shifts proposal for aqua theater from Miami Arena to Knight Center
By Susan Stabley
A year after telling the city that he wanted to turn Miami Arena into a venue for aquatic shows, Broadway producer Zev Buffman has shifted his sights to the James L. Knight Center.
Mr. Buffman, former co-owner of the Miami Heat professional basketball team, said his $28 million "aqua-arena" plan for the debt-ridden Miami Arena would cost only about $10 million at the Knight Center.
Mr. Buffman, who has lived in Southern California for several years, told the City Commission in April 2002 that his plan would revive the 14-year-old arena that is the former home for the Heat. But nothing came of that plan, and Mr. Buffman now plans to come to South Florida soon to present his new plan.
"We have a fully developed project that needs to be adapted," said Mr. Buffman. "We're not starting from scratch."
The aquarena plan was inspired by a popular Cirque du Soleil show at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas. When Mr. Buffman made his pitch last year for the Miami Arena, he said he would oversee construction and operate the facility for a management fee.
Converting the Miami Arena would have required a bond issue on top of the $35 million debt the building carries through 2020, said Jim Jenkins, CEO of the Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority, which runs the arena. And the city would have to bid out the concept because the arena is city-owned and partially maintained by the city's convention development tax.
"I waited patiently and stayed in touch rather regularly," said Mr. Buffman. He said he believes the city didn't move forward on the plan because it might want the site for a baseball stadium.
So he has shifted his focus to the Knight Center. "The building itself is more suitable for this purpose," Mr. Buffman said.
At the Knight Center, he said, only the stage area would have to be revamped during a seven-month project that would involve installing a 25-by-20-meter show pool powered by hydraulic lifts. A floor would slide over the pool to allow "dry" programming at the 5,000-seat Knight Center.
Mr. Buffman's plan for the Miami Arena would have required much more of an overhaul, including reducing seating from 16,600 to 7,500 and a refurbishing of the venue's upper areas.
The Knight Center is also owned by the city and is operated by Global Spectrum. "I do all my projects with them," said Mr. Buffman. "They have great management."
Mr. Buffman has produced more than 40 Broadway shows, has been nominated for 27 Tony Awards and has built or managed dozens of performing-arts centers, concert amphitheaters and sports arenas.
He said that with his aqua theater, Miami would be the only place east of Las Vegas where audiences could see as many as 95 water-related shows a year. He said he has several concept shows in the works including homages to classic MGM musicals that starred Esther Williams and Johnny Weissmuller, bilingual Tropicana revues and theater for youth in the water stage.
Mr. Buffman said he has had only "general conversations" with city officials. "There's been no official proposals," he said. What remains is what he called the "unknown jungle of the political process."