HistoryMiami seeking to double its size, add performance space
By Risa Polansky
Along with its new name, HistoryMiami has a new plan: double its size and expand its exhibit space, educational offerings, archives and research areas — and even add performance space.
Rather than open a small branch within the Miami Science Museum facility planned for Museum Park, the history museum hopes to stay in Miami-Dade County's cultural plaza downtown at 101 W Flagler St.
The idea is to expand into the space the Miami Art Museum intends to vacate for its own move into Museum Park.
Taking over the neighboring building and growing to more than 80,000 square feet within the plaza "will give us the opportunity to expand our permanent exhibition space and enhance our temporary exhibition space," HistoryMiami President Bob McCammon said Monday. "Additionally, this will provide us with additional space to really have an educational center," including dedicated classroom space.
Archives and research "will be greatly enhanced," he said, with more than double the area.
And after 25 years of community research, Mr. McCammon said the museum envisions emphasis on a "South Florida Folk Life Center" complete with a venue for display art and cultural performances.
Logistics are still in the works, including how the museum might connect — or facilitate connectivity — between its existing facility and the neighboring but separate art museum space.
County commission approval is the first step, he said, and "all the fun stuff after that."
Voter-approved general obligation bonds in 2004 included $275 million intended to go toward new museums in the park, $100 million for an about 120,000-square-foot art museum and $175 million for the 250,000-square-foot science facility.
Of that, $10 million and 25,000 square feet were meant for the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, known now as HistoryMiami.
Scrapping that plan and moving ahead with the new cultural plaza expansion idea needs a commission OK. Discussions with the county are ongoing.
Mr. McCammon last week gave an overview presentation to the advisory committee that oversees the bond program, Miami-Dade Cultural Affairs Director Michael Spring said Tuesday.
Though the plan is in early stages when it comes to approvals, the museum has a "very well-formed concept on how this would work," Mr. Spring said, and "it has some advantages."
Rather than having a museum outpost in the park, "it's a larger museum at the current location," he said. "It also answers the question that everyone seems to be asking about what happens to the Miami Art Museum [building] when the Miami Art Museum moves out."
The new plan has "been endorsed by the mayor and the manager," and the 11 commissioners the museum has pitched so far seemed "very receptive," Mr. McCammon said.
He expects a vote this fall.
"The [art museum building] was built for a museum, and so it should remain as a museum, and they thought we would be the best suited for it and we agree," he said.
Expanding within the cultural plaza — home now to the Miami-Dade Public Library along with the history and art museums — would double museum space, Mr. McCammon said.
The museum today doesn't pay rent for its county-owned cultural plaza facility, instead guaranteeing to provide certain services like educational offerings and artifact-keeping in exchange for the space.
Mr. McCammon said the same arrangement has been discussed should the expansion into the art museum space move forward.
It's not been decided whether the $10 million in county bonding would be transferred to the new project, though Mr. Spring said it's been discussed.
If not, a capital campaign would be in order, Mr. McCammon said.
Meanwhile, the potential $10 million lost and 25,000 square feet vacated poses not a problem but an opportunity for the science museum, CEO Gillian Thomas said.
Finding a tenant more fitting for a science facility "will really help us deepen what it is we're trying to achieve," she said.
The new partner, or potentially partners, would probably cover the costs for the space, and "if we position the partnership well," could open doors to more funding opportunities in general, Ms. Thomas predicted. "We're very excited about the opportunity."
The Museum Park art and science museums aren't expected to open until 2013 and 2014 respectively.
Construction has yet to begin.
On top of the county bond money, both the art and science museums have pledged to raise about $100 million apiece for construction, endowments, exhibits and other costs.
As of a February county report, pledged donations outnumbered collected cash for both museums.
And, reeling from a shrunken tax roll and lower-than-planned debt service millage, officials are evaluating the general obligation bond program to see which projects it can fund when. Project timelines could be affected.