By Sabrina Rodriguez
By Michael E. Miller
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Gordon, along with many arts promoters, fears the current plan would overemphasize traditional art forms, sucking dry the availaible funding for dozens od community dance troupes and neighborhood theaters.
Bernard Zyscovich, another dissident Trust member, says the proposed site, far from the true heart of downtown Miami, will doom the performing arts center to isolation and irrelevance. He and other representatives of the 600-member Miami chapter of the American Institute of Architects are lobbying county commissioners to look once again at a variety of downtown sites the Trust has considered and rejected, including land on the north bank of the Miami River, and a parcel at Flagler Street and Biscayne Boulevard, former home of the demolished Columbus Hotel. "We're party crashers," Zyscovich says with a grin. "We haven't been asked, so we're butting in."
George Knox is butting in, too. Former Miami city attorney, veteran civic activist, high school bassoon player, and self-described "metropophile," Knox suggests that Dade's performing arts center should be built on the west side of Biscayne Boulevard in the vicinity of the Freedom Tower, or on a sprawling tract across the street, formerly owned by the Florida East Coast Railway. Such a location would forge an economic link between the performing arts center and the struggling Overtown-Park West project, a new residential and retail nexus on the downtown frontier of Miami's black ghetto. Earlier this year the Miami City Commission refused by a 3-2 vote to offer the 21-acre parcel they'd purchased from the FEC in 1981 as a possible site for the performing arts center, and for many people the thought of using existing or potential park land for any construction project is anathema. A site near the Freedom Tower has proved impossible to assemble and would cost a small fortune, according to Trust leaders. Knox's response: Try again.
"Some of us have aesthetic motives," he says. "Some are trying to stretch resources to include more arts programming and include more facilities. My interest is raw economic development. And on the basis of raw economic development and the opportunity that a $170 million investment presents, any site but the one in front of the Miami Herald building would accomplish that. I can't allow this opportunity to just hopscotch past Overtown without fighting until there's no more fight in me."
Leading members of the Performing Arts Center Trust say they accept such criticism as "just part of the territory," though they acknowledge they're wary of stopping to mull things over at such a crucial point in the evolution of a big but fragile dream. "Am I worried that momentum and coherence will be lost? Sure," says attorney Parker Thomson, chairman of the Trust. "Do I think that the people who are raising their voices are irresponsible? No. In some ways it tells me that this thing is finally real. Nobody cared until it became real. Now that it has, people will begin shooting at whatever's there."
Robert Heuer, Trust member and general manager of the Greater Miami Opera, hopes for a ground breaking by Christmas. He is not thrilled with those who seem bent on examining the mouth of a gift horse. "It irritates me that they all have a suggestion but they don't own any land, and they haven't gotten any land owners to express interest," he says of the dissidents. "At the point that the decision is made to move forward, I hope they will get behind the project instead of sniping at our suggestions. The Trust went through a big formal process where we invited people to make presentations. A whole evaluative processs. A process of elimination. I don't have any great fear that they will derail this plan."
But with the stage set for a war of ideas both ethereal and earthbound, disaffected Trust members and other opponents of the current plan appear to have recruited at least one powerful ally. Commissioner Mary Collins, chairman of the four-member Culture and Recreation Committee, doesn't like the site or the substance of the proposed scheme.
"I just don't think it's the best place to showcase what will turn out to be a monument, if we do it right, forevermore," she says. "If we're spending $160 million to house our opera, our symphony, the ballet, why would we want to scrimp with the property? We'd be better off sacrificing one of the two buildings in the current plan, fixing up the downtown Gusman Center as a home for the symphony, and getting a better piece of land for an opera house.
"No one I talk to on the street likes the site," Collins adds. "You should hear people in the Cuban community. They hate the Herald location, because they're convinced that after the lease has run out, Knight-Ridder plans to take back the land. They're extremely suspicious of that long-term lease."
Other commissioners remain loath to say which way they might jump.
"This thing is still very fluid," insists Arthur Teele. "I would be very persuaded by the two organizations that have been chartererd to make these recommendations - the Trust and the county staff at the Cultural Affairs Council. I will want to hear what they have to say and query them about their recommendations. I am not predisposed to one site or another."