Trust may save Miami's historic Gusman, yet City of Miami could still pay
By Jacquelyn Weiner
By cutting off vital fiscal 2011 aid to the historic Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, the fiscally troubled City of Miami aimed to save funds to help cover its own deficit.
Yet due to city-caused delays in turning over theater management to a private trust created to save it, Miami could now end up paying more than $300,000 to keep the Gusman afloat, much of what it was trying to save in the handover.
"For us to inherit a deficit of $300,000… is unfair to us," Herman Echevarria, founder of the Olympia Center Inc. trust, said at last week's Miami Parking Authority meeting. "This delay is not our fault."
The $300,000-plus is to reimburse the authority, which has been footing the bill for theater operations since funds dried up in February.
Philanthropist Maurice Gusman donated the circa-1926 theater, 174 E Flagler St., to Miami in 1975, requiring that the authority manage it to keep it out of City Hall politics.
Miami for years paid about $478,000, which is one third of the theater's budget, until ending its subsidy this year.
The Gusman seemed destined for closure until Mr. Echevarria stepped forward with a plan: create a private trust to manage the site, financed by trustees pledging $10,000 a year for five years.
Miami commissioners in March OK'd turning over management to the trust — which has yet to win a 501(c)(3) tax exemption from the Internal Revenue Service — but the city's delays over lawsuit liability and bond-financed repairs pushed execution of the contract back for months.
Lack of a signed contract also meant the trust had to wait to apply for 501(c)(3) exemption, Mr. Echevarria said, hurting its fundraising abilities.
Art Noriega, CEO of the Miami Parking Authority, said Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado has "owned up to it" that the delays were the city's fault and has agreed "to find additional resources" to reimburse the authority, allowing the trust to take over the theater with a clean slate.
Mayor Regalado did not respond to interview requests.
Mr. Echevarria said he expects the Olympia Center Inc. trust to become a 501(c)(3) by September, opening the doors to significantly greater fundraising possibilities.
So far, seven trustees have signed on and donated $10,000, Mr. Echevarria said.
Another 23 have agreed to pledge their first $10,000 after the trust obtains the exemption, he said.
Another part of Mr. Echevarria's plan to bolster theater finances — selling its name to a corporation — has drawn the ire of donor Mr. Gusman's family.
"Please, please think about the future going forward with naming rights," his grandson Robert Gusman said at the meeting. "I'm not sure you're setting the right tone."
Mr. Echevarria said that while efforts will be made to honor Maurice Gusman — potentially a bronze statue — City Attorney Julie Bru has told him there is no restriction on changing the name.
"I was very upfront from day one that the plan to save the Gusman was not just 50 members," Mr. Echevarria said. "Those sponsorship rights are very key for the future of this institution."
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