Plans for Performing Arts Center continue to evolve, CEO says
A pair of studies and a businesslike outlook are moving the rising Performing Arts Center of Greater Miami in directions never envisioned during its 20-some years of planning, its chief executive says.
Conceived as a pair of buildings whose primary purpose would be to stage performances of five resident companies, ongoing studies are leaning toward creating a center serving 25 performing genres, a hub of Latin American culture and a digital center that would aim to profit from live performances' main competition, CEO Michael Hardy last week told a lunch crowd.
While noting that the center's final cost is likely to top $400 million, Mr. Hardy said in a talk to the Brickell Area Association, that construction is 250 days behind and far more difficult in Miami than elsewhere and that parking remains an unsolved problem,
"No one has figured out how to program and do customer service in a performing-arts center as a business," he said. He said he aims to change that.
An extensive feasibility study now going on, he said, will help determine not only what role the fragment of downtown Miami's old Sears building will play in the structures on either side of Biscayne Boulevard between 13th and 14th streets but also where a new stream of revenues for the center could come from.
While the restored Sears tower on the west side, saved by preservationists' outcry, is targeted for dining, Mr. Hardy said, "we are working on a feasibility study to do a digital-arts center within the Performing Arts Center" based in the Sears site.
"It's not a useful building as it currently stands," targeted to be a cafe, he said. "We would like to make it more programmatically integral to the center."
As a digital center, he said, it would handle live feeds from the stage of the center's concert hall, be a place to burn CDs and DVDs - when rights have been acquired - and offer Internet conversations with other artists.
"We want to embrace the competition," he said. "The competition in our business is electronic."
As the study continues, a second is to begin in mid-June, launching what Mr. Hardy called the first comprehensive market and research project on the arts ever done locally.
Three firms have made proposals to do the study, Mr. Hardy said, all of them nationally based but with offices here. All, he said, are entrenched in Hispanic markets.
That study will not only look at programming basics for the concert hall and the opera house, he said, but will get down to such detail as the types of food patrons want and which persons in respondents' social set initiate visits to performing events.
The study will not be etched in stone, Mr. Hardy said, but is to be updated every three years to aid future decision-making.
The goal is to create a database that can be queried continually as the center looks at programming festivals and shows and to be used in deciding on advertising media buys.
Such a study has never been done here, Mr. Hardy said, leading an audience member to ask what will happen if the study shows that the project is not needed in this community. Mr. Hardy responded that performance needs and desires of the community change over time - and more and more rapidly.
The programming mix that seemed appropriate in 1998, he said, had "wildly changed" just a few years later.
In 1998, he said, the Florida Philharmonic said it would use the concert hall 110 times per year. By November 2001, he said, that use estimate had shriveled to 18 per year. Last month, he noted, the orchestra - one of the five organizations for which the center was originally intended - had filed for bankruptcy.
The other four resident companies, he said, "range from quite stable to marginal in terms of financial stability."
But the original five anchors, he said, are no longer the center's driving force.
"The programmatic view originally began as a new home for a group of resident companies. ... That vision has expanded over the years in recognition of the fact that we live in the most diverse city in the US and possibly in the Western Hemisphere."
Now, he said, plans embrace "an extremely wide range of genres for performance. Popular arts, new arts, everything from Bach to hip-hop will be in bounds at the center if we are going to succeed in this very unique community."
The center, he said, has the commercial potential to enrich the arts community and "to lift up this city economically." His aim, he said, is to make Miami "the cultural capital of the Americas."
On the business side, he said he expects the center to beam events to Latin America via pay-per-view TV.
"We are looking at a business and marketing conglomerate with this center that will lift Miami economically."
Once planned to open this year and then in 2004, Mr. Hardy sees a soft opening for the center in July 2005 and a formal opening the following October. While construction was his major worry three months ago, he said, "the train is now going at a reasonable speed."
In the business realm, Mr. Hardy said he expects to develop a branding strategy and graphic arts identity for the center in late fall.
While hiring to staff the center had been a priority, Mr. Hardy said, he had slowed that effort as construction lagged so as not to burn up funding too early.
As he does hire, he said, he wants both the staff and the Performing Arts Center board to reflect both expertise and the ethnic and demographic mix of Miami. The board, in that regard, he said, "is going to need a little more work."