Alvarez budget includes $9 million for arts center
By Wayne Tompkins
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez has proposed making permanent the $4.1 million in emergency funding the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts received last month to address an embarrassing series of cost overruns.
The mayor allocated $8.85 million in funding for the center's operations in his proposed 2007-08 budget released last week, more than twice the $3.75 million budgeted last year.
The funding increase, while expected, comes during an otherwise difficult year for county-funded arts groups in the wake of budget cuts spawned by property-tax decreases and diminishing revenues.
For example, Mr. Alvarez is proposing a $3.5 million reduction in cultural grants, which would affect nearly 350 organizations. County museums would lose $1.6 million in county subsidies.
Pending approval from county commissioners, Mr. Alvarez would draw the Carnival Center's operations budget from $6.4 million in convention-development tax and $2.45 million in tourist-development tax revenue.
When the Carnival Center opened in October, operations costs at the $472 million facility soared to more than twice the original estimate, owing to errors including the use of square feet instead of cubic feet in calculations for air-conditioning costs.
Commissioners have reaffirmed their support even as they expressed unhappiness in shelling out the $4.1 million bailout.
County Manager George Burgess said the lack of a similar performing-arts center to benchmark costs against led to "inadequate assumptions" in calculating utility, insurance, maintenance and utility costs.
The tourist-development tax money partially replaces the convention-development dollars that were part of the funding schedule for the Performing Arts Center Trust operating agreement.
Earlier this year, Carnival Center officials asked the county for $10.1 million for 2007-08 operations, a preliminary request that was later revised downward.
Terea Hebert, a county government veteran hired as chief operating officer at the center to help clean up the cost overruns, has said the $8.85 million in Mr. Alvarez' budget would allow the center to meet or come in under its operations budget this year, barring a hurricane or a spike in utility costs.
She said the center has found savings through changes ranging from bringing some contracts in-house to restructuring utility payments.
There is little sentiment among commissioners to let the high-profile performing-arts center fail. The downtown landmark has received glowing reviews for its acoustics and design, and Mr. Burgess said if the Carnival Center were built today, "no bid would come in under $1 billion."
A delegation from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington visited the Carnival Center last week to give advice, and the county has taken greater oversight over spending.