Miami approves $5.9 million payment to firm, moves forward with plans for Museum Park despite pending lawsuit
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
The City of Miami is moving forward with plans for Museum Park despite a lawsuit that threatens the project.
Last week, the City Commission approved a payment of $5.9 million to Cooper, Robertson and Partners — a New York-based urban planning and consulting firm that completed the project's master plan — for the architectural and engineering services it is to provide for the 29-acre park. Museum Park is the city's urban redesign for the under-used Bicentennial Park on Biscayne Bay.
This action took place despite a lawsuit filed by auto magnate Norman Braman intended to stop a city-and-county-supported $3 billion mega plan that includes the park and a new Marlins stadium.
Still, the city appears to have faith that the mega plan will have a favorable outcome as it pushes forward with park development plans.
"This is when they will refine the master plan and prepare construction documents to be ready for construction," said Ola Aluko, director of Miami's capital improvement programs.
City Manager Pete Hernandez said it would take at least a year to complete the necessary construction documents.
Julie Bru, Miami's city attorney, stated at last week's commission meeting that "the city attorney's office has not had the opportunity to review the agreement" because it had just been finalized. She said the agreement will come back to the commission if it is not legally sufficient.
Funds to pay for the construction of Museum Park are to come from mega plan, or global agreement, funding, Mr. Aluko said. If the agreement falls through, the city would have to find another source of funding for development of the park.
The city hopes to know the outcome of Braman's lawsuit before Cooper Roberston moves forward with the project. But if the case is still in litigation at that time, Mr. Aluko said the city can pay the firm using funds from a soon-to-be-received $27.5 million Sunshine loan, a low-interest loan from the Sunshine State Governmental Financing Commission intended to help support the city's property improvement projects.
In the event the global agreement falls through, Mr. Aluko said the contract between the city and the firm includes a clause that would allow him to "terminate the contract for convenience with no penalty to the city."
Miami's capital improvements department is responsible for constructing the park component, which includes an information pavilion, shell for a restaurant, the preliminary design for a parking garage, public gardens and water features that are to face Biscayne Bay.
The renovation project's other major component is new facilities for Miami Museum of Science & Planetarium and Miami Art Museum, which have separate construction plans.
Cooper Robertson is the same firm city commissioners in January refused to pay $85,000 to conduct a study that looked at whether a transformed Museum Park would have the correct visual harmony with the Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center and nearby buildings. Commissioners said the study was authorized by former City Manager Joe Arriola but not by the commission.
Commissioners said the cost of the study should be the responsibility of the performing arts center and other downtown property owners concerned that the new park project could overshadow their establishments.
With commissioners unanimously agreeing to pay the Cooper Robertson for its architectural services, the next step is to issue a "notice to proceed." Mr. Aluko said the firm is to receive the first payment about 45 to 60 days after it begins work, followed by monthly payments on a percentage-basis of work completed.