Rules change on waiving of Vizcaya fees
By Lou Ortiz
It will take fewer votes from the Miami-Dade County Commission to waive or reduce fees to use Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, but that won't lead to increases of events there.
Commissioners agreed this month to switch to a two-thirds vote versus unanimity by the commission to reduce or grant fee waivers at the National Historic Landmark, while at the same time vowing to protect the museum and grounds. The measure passed 11-1.
Vizcaya often plays host to weddings and other special events, with costs ranging from $7,500 to more than $12,500, depending on the day of the week.
The commission created the unanimity rule in 1995 to protect the fragile property and control the number of fee waivers at the museum. Requests for fee reductions and waivers also require a public hearing before the commission vote.
The rule applies when waivers would hurt the museum's budget, but not when the facility's budget is reimbursed by another county agency.
The county manager can administratively waive fees twice a year and reduce fees four times annually for diplomatic events or those that benefit the entire county.
"Fee-waived events undermine the museum's fiscal stability," Cathy Jones, chairwoman of the museum's Trust, said in a memo to commissioners.
Ms. Jones said that even after the 1995 ordinance was passed the "American Association of Museums expressed grave concern about the overuse of Vizcaya for special events" during the museum's reaccreditation process.
Fearing that it would lead to abuses, Commissioner Audrey M. Edmonson cast the lone vote against the new ordinance, at the March 4 commission meeting.
"I cannot support this," she said. "I'd rather leave it as it is. I wouldn't want to see it used as a party hall."
But Commissioner Carlos A. Gimenez said that requiring a two-thirds commission vote "is a good barrier to frivolous events there."
Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz suggested that officials who run the museum should come back with criteria on how best to use the facility, so the commission could put it in a resolution.
"This," he said, "is our most beautiful asset."