Miami Art Museum Breaks Ground on New Home in Downtown Miami

On the eve of Art Basel Miami Beach, Miami Art Museum broke ground on its new Herzog & de Meuron-designed building in Downtown Miami’s Museum Park. Opening to the public in 2013, Miami Art Museum will be one of the few publicly-funded major arts projects to be built over the next few years (and indeed, one of the few construction projects in the whole of South Florida). “Today’s groundbreaking is a giant step forward in Miami’s emergence as one of the world’s great cultural cities,” said Aaron Podhurst, chairman of Miami Art Museum’s board of trustees. “The launch of this construction process signals that the public and private sectors are committed to enhancing Miami’s profile as a global arts destination and we are proud that Miami Art Museum factors prominently into that reputation. Our new building will fill many roles – as a repository for our city’s greatest works, a resource for learning, an economic engine in our urban core, a gathering place for Miami residents and visitors, and as an architectural icon of our city.” Prior to the ground breaking, The Miami Herald broke the news with a lengthy feature on the “consequential milestone” that signifies Miami’s emergence as a global arts capital.

Work about to begin on art museum

by Andres Viglucci

As financing and permits fall into place, the Miami Art Museum will hold a ceremonial groundbreaking for its long-planned, $200 million bayfront home on Tuesday, timed to the Art Basel crowd’s arrival in town — a prelude to what administrators say will be the actual start of construction work just two weeks later.

The publicly owned museum’s planning consultants say they expect contractors to begin sinking test pilings into the ground at the new building’s four-acre site, in the northeast corner of Bicentennial Park, on or around Dec. 15.

If it happens as scheduled, that initial phase would mark a consequential milestone in plans to transform the barely used park into a cultural centerpiece for downtown Miami — a strategy that has been dogged by some degree of controversy and doubts over its feasibility.

“We’re all go,” said MAM Chairman Aaron Podhurst. “It’s Art Basel and the whole world is here. The timing is perfect.”

The groundbreaking comes almost six months after Miami-Dade County officials certified that MAM, by securing more than $30 million in private pledges, had met the conditions for release of $100 million in voter-approved bond proceeds for construction of the new building.

Contractors are now in the final stretch of obtaining building permits from the city of Miami. They expect to have permits for foundation work in hand this week, said Robert Portnoff, project director at the Paratus Group, the museum’s planning consultant.

“I don’t anticipate any hurdles,” Portnoff said, adding that permits could have already been approved had city building officials not been absorbed reviewing plans for the Marlins baseball stadium under construction in Little Havana.

City building director Orlando Toledo confirmed MAM could have a green light on foundation  work by Friday. That would allow work to begin while city officials review plans for the museum structure, he said.

The pile testing will last for three to four weeks, Portnoff said, after which work will start in earnest on footings and foundations. Three months after that, he said, “we would start to go vertical.”

With construction slated to last 28 months, MAM would be on track for a 2013 opening.

Some work has already taken place on the site. The museum’s general contractor, John Moriarty & Associates, has erected a series of concrete mock-ups at the park to test construction materials.

Environmental remediation work to remove contaminated topsoil was also recently completed. The park, partly composed of landfill and built to commemorate the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976, was formerly the site of an oil-storage facility and the Port of Miami.


  Eight years ago, the administration of then-Mayor Manny Diaz began working to redevelop the 29-acre park, which was never successful in part because of berms that cut if off from downtown Miami. The commission approved a master plan that called for an art museum and a new home for the popular Miami Science Museum on eight acres facing approximately 20 acres of green space to be called Museum Park.

Voters overwhelmingly passed a $2.9 billion package of county bond offerings — including the new museums — in 2004.

But the plan has come under criticism from parks activists who say the buildings would eat up too much open space, while some prominent art-world figures question whether MAM, with a relatively small collection of contemporary art and a low profile, merits a $200 million, taxpayer-financed building.

Others have questioned whether the art and science museums can meet ambitious private fundraising goals for construction and subsequent operation of the large, complex new buildings, especially amid the economic collapse of the past couple of years.

MAM pledged to raise $100 million privately, partly to create an endowment that would produce enough income to cover its operating costs without heavy reliance on public subsidies.

Last week, Podhurst said the museum has $45 million in secure pledges — enough, along with the county bond money, to cover construction costs of $130 million, plus provide a head start on the endowment.

“The next several years will be a stretch for us to raise enough money for an endowment,” he said.


  MAM already received around $10 million in county money this year toward design and permitting work, including fees to its lead architects, the famed Swiss firm of Herzog & de Meuron. All told, Podhurst estimated, the museum has spent $20 million on the project so far.

In 2011, the museum expects to receive about $40 million of the county bond money, which will be disbursed in phases as construction bills come due.

“The money will be available as we need it,” Podhurst said. “All this has been done very carefully.”

The Science Museum, which would receive $175 million in county bond money, is about a year behind MAM in planning its new home. Science museum officials, who have also pledged to raise $100 million privately, have not yet generated enough in pledges to be eligible for the public funding.

Plans for the accompanying $68 million park, in the meantime, remain up in the air amid the city’s fiscal crisis.

The city’s capital improvements projects chief Alice Bravo said her department is looking at breaking the project into pieces to be built in phases as funding becomes available.

But the goal is to have some semblance of a park in place when the new MAM opens its doors.

“We will want to have something inviting,” she said.