Private funding for Miami science museum falls short

Mayor Carlos Gimenez: No more public money to be allocated to museum

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – A private funding shortfall has public officials scrambling for another plan to open Miami's signature new science museum under construction in Bayfront Park.

Though the museum's board has been publicly describing their fundraising as "on target," Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez revealed board members came to him two months ago to share the shortfall of pledges and donor gifts. 

"First, they had to fire the original contractor. They are in litigation now over that," said Gimenez.  "And, two, their pledges didn't come in as quickly as they thought."

So far, $150 million in general obligation bonds is funding the construction of the four-building bayfront museum, which includes a 500,000-gallon aquarium and digital planetarium. 

An additional $100 million in private funding was planned for the exhibits and operations, but to date, $70 million has been raised -- more than half of that from philanthropists Patricia and Phillip Frost, the couple for whom the museum is named.

Gimenez told the museum's board there would be no more public money allocated to the museum, but told Local10 News on Tuesday about his plan to keep the construction and intended opening underway. 

"We have aspirations to be the next great cultural center in the hemisphere. This aggressive plan for fundraising is part of the formula for that," said Michael Spring, Miami-Dade County's cultural affairs director.

Under the mayor's plan, Miami-Dade County will front the museum 20 years worth of the annual county funding designated for museum operations -- a total of $80 million -- to allow for bank financing to finish construction and open the museum. Then, future private funding will replace that revenue stream for annual operations.

"We're not putting any more general fund money into it," Gimenez said. "It was money that they were going to receive that is front-loaded instead of being paid out in installments. I don't like this any more than anybody else, but when you look at the options, there is no option to keep it closed."

The mayor will need the Miami-Dade commissioners to approve the funding plan. He said eight of the 13 have indicated support.

All involved believe the private support will come more easily when the facility and programs are up and running.

"As it comes to fruition, we're seeing that more gifts are coming along. Its just not coming along as fast as we need to complete everything for opening," said museum president and CEO Gillian Thomas. "And the longer it takes, the more expensive things get, so we really want to get to opening as fast as we possibly can."

Thomas believes the museum will be ready for a grand opening in the fall as a premiere showcase for science and technology.

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