Performing Arts Center, county in mediation over construction disputes
By Shannon Pettypiece
The Performing Arts Center Builders and Miami-Dade County are in mediation to resolve ongoing construction disputes at the rising complex.
The builders have also hired an overseer to monitor their work on the $255 million center.
The parties met with a certified mediator for the first time Tuesday and will meet again Dec. 4, said Assistant County Manager Bill Johnson. Both sides agreed to talks after officials questioned the quality of construction in September.
"There was an agreement with the county to enter into mediation to the first of the year as a way to resolve a lot of these issues," Mr. Johnson said. "We are optimistic that this time they are going to get it right because there is no other option."
Prior to mediation, the builders revamped their quality-control procedures and hired a construction veteran, Ron Austin, to oversee and report to the CEOs of the companies building the center - Odebrecht Construction, the Haskell Co. and EllisDon Construction.
"He is the eyes and ears of those principals in the field," said Mr. Johnson, county liaison for the venture.
The county and builders will reach a new construction schedule by Jan. 3, he said, because construction is 368 days behind the original schedule.
Project manager Gail Thompson said she likes the new procedures but the test will be in application.
"We will be interested to see how PACB implements this quality control," she said Tuesday. "We are cautiously optimistic."
A county audit done during the summer, to be released this week, found deficiencies in construction.
Construction is expected to finish by October 2005, with performances starting in late 2005 or early 2006.
The Florida Philharmonic has officially left the building, leaving room at the new Greater Miami Performing Arts Center for another resident company.
During the past four months, the orchestra has declared bankruptcy, cancelled its schedule and fired its employees. Tuesday, the Performing Arts Center Trust, which will operate the center, terminated the orchestra's rights as a resident company.
The Performing Arts Center is under construction and scheduled to open in 2005.
"Resident companies have priority to choose dates over any other user," said trust CEO Michael Hardy. "Resident companies have first priority regardless of whether it is most economical."
Mr. Hardy said a piano competition and jazz organization have told him they are interested in taking the philharmonic's place.
"We have had conversations with some groups," Mr. Hardy said.
The Florida Philharmonic would have had 18 concerts at the center's Carnival Symphony Hall.
Resident-company status gives a group first priority for show dates and guarantees them stage time regardless of economic impact on the center.
The two remaining tenants in the symphony hall will fill 50 to 65 nights, with the New World Symphony holding 10 to 15 concerts a year and the Concert Association 40 to 50.
The Performing Arts Center straddles Biscayne Boulevard between 13th and 14th streets with Sanford and Dolores Ziff Ballet Opera House on one side and Carnival Symphony Hall on the other. The center also will include a plaza for performances and a small studio theater.
The Miami City Ballet, another resident company that will share the center's ballet opera house with the Florida Grand Opera, will perform 17 to 20 nights, mainly on weekends, said ballet spokeswoman Nicolle Ugarriza.
Community events such as high-school graduations and choir performances and national touring acts will use the remainder of the arts center's booking time.
Scheduling for the center's other three venues, the opera house and the black-box studio theater, will begin in January.
Mr. Hardy said the ballet and opera will take up more than 50% of the time in the opera house.
Last week, the trust blocked off seven weeks of the regular arts season for Broadway musicals so it can begin negotiating dates with promoters such as Clear Channel Communications, Mr. Hardy said.
The resident companies will not perform during the summer, leaving several consecutive months available for larger Broadway musicals, Mr. Hardy said.
Center officials expect resident companies to use 30% of the time in the center's five areas, leaving room for big-name acts and community events.
Sanford Ziff, founder of Sunglass Hut who is the namesake of the opera house, said Tuesday that the center should keep a community focus and that there is plenty of room for all types of acts ranging form local arts organizations to national acts.
"It is so important to bring in everybody. This is going to be the center of Dade County as far as culture is concerned," Mr. Ziff said. "We have plenty of opportunity to bring in not only the world-class ballet but bring in Broadway and the dance groups that are very modern and creative."
Mr. Ziff has been discussing programming with Mr. Hardy and the center's programming director and will continue meeting with them as the center begins to book events.
Construction is scheduled to be completed in October 2005.