Bill Johnson-led team to manage arts center construction
By Susan Stabley
Construction of the Miami Performing Arts Center will be managed by a team under Assistant County Manager Bill Johnson after project director Gail Thompson resigned Friday, according to a Miami-Dade County spokeswoman.
Mr. Johnson has been the county official responsible for the center's planning and design. The team approach will be in place until a project manager is hired, county spokeswoman Aimee Artiles said Tuesday.
County commissioners had been scheduled to consider later this month a restructured deal with the builders and architect of the overbudget and overdue center. A new contract would include the hiring of consultant Ronald Austin of Vital Management Solutions in Ohio as construction manager.
Ms. Thompson was due to be transferred to a lesser position handling administrative tasks, according to the county. She will be paid through April 29 as part of her severance agreement, Ms. Artiles said.
"While I appreciate your offer for an alternative position, I find that it is not consistent with my career goals," Ms. Thompson wrote in a resignation letter to County Manager George Burgess.
Ms. Thompson was hired five years ago to supervise construction of the center that straddles Biscayne Boulevard between 13th and 14th streets. She had been project manager for the $187 million New Jersey Performing Arts Center, completed in 1997, and assistant vice president of facilities planning and development for the American Stock Exchange in New York.
The Miami Performing Arts Center was budgeted originally at $255 million. County officials now estimate it will end up costing at least $322 million if commissioners approve the new contract with architect Cesar Pelli and Associates and the builders Odebrecht Construction, the Haskell Co. and EllisDon Construction.
"Now we have a conditional contract and more liability," said County Commission Chairwoman Barbara Carey-Shuler, who called the project "a total chaotic mess."
Some of the difficulties at the center have been traced to when two assistant architectural firms left the project. Having Cesar Pelli and Associates as the project's designer and the architect of record was a mistake, Mr. Austin told commissioners last month. He said the company had no architect onsite to answer day-to-day questions, "crippling the flow of information."
Ms. Carey-Shuler said Monday that Ms. Thompson should not be a scapegoat for problems with the center because many decisions were made before she was hired.
"Gail tried to hold the builders' feet to the fire and make them assume responsibility," Ms. Carey-Shuler said.
Mr. Austin's contract, his salary and a delineation of responsibilities have not been set, Ms. Artiles said Tuesday, although an annual salary of $200,000 was mentioned during a county commission meeting last month.
Mr. Burgess is out of town and will return next week to work on details with Mr. Johnson, she said.