Historic Olympia Theater at Gusman not out of financial woods yet
By Jacquelyn Weiner
March 24, 2011, seemed a historic day at Miami City Hall as commissioners granted a private trust management of the Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts to fanfare, seemingly saving the historic Flagler Street building from closure.
Its future was threatened when the city, faced with budget woes of its own, ended its one-third subsidy of the vintage 1926 theater. Then local CEO Herman Echevarria stepped in with a plan to run the facility privately with a nonprofit trust.
But in reality, the theater isn't yet in the clear, with no inked turnover date or money flowing.
The agreement approved by commissioners OK'd management turnover to nonprofit Olympia Center Inc. but didn't specify an effective date. Now the trust wants to wait until the start of a new fiscal year Oct. 1.
The plan: have the Miami Parking Authority continue financing theater operations through Sept. 30, after which the trust would reimburse the authority.
Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, trust founder Mr. Echevarria and authority CEO Art Noriega are all on board.
However, this reimbursement agreement needs the authority board's sign off - and they're not keen on the idea.
"I question the motivation of not taking over the accounting," said authority board member Arthur Hertz at last week's board meeting. "I think it's a blueprint for disaster."
Fellow authority board member Stephen Nostrand agreed: "I don't want to be held hostage," he said at the meeting. "There's no effective date."
He added that it seemed the new trust was "trying to buy as much time as they can."
"You're dead on that this is an opportunity to buy time," Mr. Noriega responded. But "I don't know that we have an alternative other than shutting the building down."
As for the reasoning behind transferring management at the start of a fiscal year, the aim is to ensure a smooth financial transition, Mr. Echevarria said in an interview Monday.
"It's very hard to reconciliate before," said Mr. Echevarria, who is also CEO of BVK/Meka advertising.
In addition, he said, those extra months allow time to focus on fundraising without the responsibility of running the theater,
"It takes time for me to visit one to one with all these people as we have done for the last three weeks," Mr. Echevarria said.
However, he said, fundraising is going "very well" and the trust has 13 confirmed trustees.
Those trustees must sign a contract agreeing to contribute $10,000 a year for five years.
The goal is to have 50 trustees on board and raise $1 million.
While he couldn't yet share names of trustees, he said, he'd be happy to share finances with the authority's board.
"There's nothing here to be hidden," he said.
He'll probably have to share that financial information in the next few weeks, as authority board members said they wanted to call a special meeting to resolve the issue.
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