Yuck!

"I don't right now have a lot of reservations about the Knight-Ridder site," says Alex Penelas. "I've heard good things about it. That doesn't mean I couldn't be persuaded otherwise."

Commissioner Charles Dusseau continues trying to knit together a performing arts center site from three privately owned parcels on the north bank of the Miami River. "I don't know how anyone will vote," he says. "It's impossible to say, because you don't know what new information might come up between now and then. But clearly, unless another viable alternative is presented, the one that's been drawn up will probably be chosen. You can't hold off forever. On the other hand, until the first spadeful of earth is turned, we need to maintain sufficient flexibility to consider all the alternatives."

Both the leaders of the Trust and their opponents believe their respective views will prevail. "If somebody took a vote today, there would not be a majority on the county commission wanting to locate the site on the Knight-Ridder parcel," Knox proclaims. Don't bet on it, counters Thomson: "I think it's the only site, realistically. I do not believe that public money should be spent on private land for this project. And I think that a majority of the county commission, maybe all of it, feels the same way."

Meanwhile, some skeptics doubt that the financing for the project is as sound as Trust leaders say. While monies from the county's tourist development tax seem all but assured, state grants and private donations could be another matter.

"I simply do not know under which rocks we expect to find $40-$50 million," wrote New World Symphony president Jeffrey Babcock in a June 1990 letter to fellow Trust members. Besides expressing worries about such an ambitious private fund-raising campaign, Babcock was alarmed by the prospect of a possible $2.5 million annual operating deficit for the new arts center. "At least some of my colleagues are of the opinion that we should ignore the topic of the operating deficit until the center is completed and operating. However...I am hard pressed to understand where the funds will come from...."

While he is not pessimistic at the prospect of someday raising state money for the giant arts juggernaut, state Rep. John Cosgrove (D-South Dade) says it may depend on substantial and controversial changes in the state's tax structure. "In the present curcumstances, funding $5 million or $25 million or $5 would be extremely difficult," says Cosgrove, a member of the House Appropriations Committee. "If nothing changes with the fiscal affairs of the state, then it's impossible."

TOO UGLY, TOO DEAD, TOO DULL: ATTACK OF THE RENEGADE ARCHITECTS

Bernard Zyscovich, thirteenth from the very last name in the Greater Miami telephone directory, climbs neatly to the top of the statue of Argentine Gen. D. Jose De San Martin that stands near the east end of Flagler Street. He is photographing a favorite plot of land, a two-acre rectangle that fronts Biscayne Boulevard. The Columbus Hotel stood there before a demolition crew knocked it down and took it away last winter. Now there's a huge blue-green puddle.

But Zyscovich sees neither the ghost of a hotel nor a pond. He sees an opera house. Invisible tourists from Dusseldorf are eating lunch on the steps. Imaginary fashion models are putting on rouge and brushing their hair. Pigeons that aren't there take wing from corniced eaves that haven't been built. "Everyone is in general agreement that the performing arts center is a needed element in the city," Zyscovich says, hopping down, setting off around the property to snap more pictures. "Once we assume that the money's available, the next question is, what do we spend it on, and where do we spend it, and how do we spend it? First decisions first.

"The analogy I like to use is this camera," he says. "You spend 1/100th of a second, and there you have your image. You can spend the next two or three days developing the film, but no matter what you do to it, no matter how great it is technologically, it's only going to be as good as the image that you took. That's the way we look at the performing arts center right now. The location is of tremendous significance, and that was sort of the core element that ran through our presentation."

Zyscovich refers to a meeting two weeks ago at the Metro-Dade Government Center at which he and other architects showed slides of the world's theaters, opera houses, and symphony halls - good and bad, new and ancient. The 45-minute guided tour began with the feel of an undergraduate seminar, but ended up looking like a guerrilla ambush - with cocktails. Someone referred to the Miami Herald building as "possibly the ugliest structure in Dade County." Ghastly images appeared on screen, views one might see from the lobby of Dade's new performing arts center if it were built on the Knight-Ridder land, scenes of towering concrete slabs, the backs of department stores, condos.

Though the public presentation was aimed at influencing the politicians whose votes will decide the fate of an arts center, county commissioners were scarcer than the Florida panther. One of two politicos present, Charles Dusseau had the foresight to flee before things turned nasty. The renegade architects were up to something! A woman in the audience called Dade's Performing Arts Center Trust "irresponsible," saying it had turned its back on starving dancers. Said the moderator: "You don't have any problem with us on that scar - uh, I mean score." People whooped and applauded. Others sniffed and harrumphed and shuffled their feet. Revolution! Everything seemed settled one moment, and the next these upstarts were biting a significant chunk of status quo precisely on the butt, and making it yelp!

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