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"Not only was this our opinion as a couple of young architects in town, but, you know, we've done the research, we've looked into the history of theater and facilities," the 44-year-old Zyscovich says of the meeting, continuing his walk up Northeast First Street past a shoe store. "In terms of urbanism and the effect on the city, the best examples always are the ones that have a great urban plaza or space, and they're located in a strategic way so as to become a focal element in the life of the city. They enliven the city. They generate activity. They're not just, `Well, let's get in the car and go to the theater, and then after the theater let's get back in the car, and where are we going to go to have dinner?'
"Ideally what you do is you get in the car or the Metrorail and you say, `We're going out!' Cocktails, and dinner, and theater, and after-theater entertainment, and all those things all happen in one centralized location, and they become part of the whole ambiance," Zyscovich says. "While you're doing one, you're anticipating the next one, and you're not getting in and out of a car. No. It's part of the daily life. That's something we were trying to get across in the presentation, that this is not just an idea we happen to have now, but historically that's how things have been done.
"We don't want to go through a process like this as a city, spending $150 or $160 million just to have the opera and symphony wind up being another destination - like going to Joe Robbie Stadium," says the architect. "People were upset when the Dolphins moved out of downtown, because the Orange Bowl at least was in the city, it was part of life. Now you go out into the boondocks to see a football game. That may be necessary for something of that enormous scale. But I know that it's not necessary to have that attitude with this facility.
"What is viewed by some as a threat is actually an opportunity," Zyscovich insists. "Think of how fortunate we are! We have $114 million [in hotel-tax money] basically sitting in the bank. We have a city that's beautiful, sitting on the bay. We have a downtown with animation. What we need to do now is make some very difficult decisions about what is the best site.
"There are several that are better than the one that's been selected," he says. "On the west side of Biscayne Boulevard, build it between the Freedom Tower and MacArthur Causeway. Those sites front on Biscayne Boulevard, the bay is in front of them, and the park is in front of them. Bicentennial Park could be looked at seriously if the city of Miami were to put it in the pot, which we believe they should. Another potential site is on the river. There's the area directly under the Metrorail, on the north bank of the river. Even Ball Point, right on the corner behind the Intercontinental Hotel.
"But if we proceed with this fait accompli mentality, we're cutting off at least 50 percent of what this place could be. Internally you can create a great opera house anywhere. It's a building. We can control the way the building is designed. Whoever ultimately ends up being the architect can create a beautiful building with an acoustician that creates great acoustics. But that's only part of the problem.
"Imagine it at the Knight-Ridder site: surrounded by the MacArthur Causeway, the Omni, the Herald building, and a giant wall of offices." Zyscovich's face contorts in a scowl. "It's not part of everyday life for most people. The people who work at the Knight-Ridder office complex will be able to go eat lunch on the steps, but it's not the same as eating lunch on the steps here, looking out over the park and the bay and being part of the energy of the central business district. It can never be that. Its potential will be lost.
"If it were here on Biscayne and Flagler, the opera house could be part of the life of everyone who goes to work downtown, whether it's eating lunch on the steps or having twilight performances in the plaza or streaming out after a performance into the beautiful evening along Biscayne Boulevard and watching as cafes and restaurants open up all throughout downtown, with sidewalks like Coconut Grove or Miami Beach. That's the potential we're talking about. People on the sidewalks. Bayside over there, the biggest tourist attraction in Dade County. This building would be central to all that energy.
"And what's ironic is the fact that if it's visible, it's going to be developing an audience," he adds. "There'll be banners on the streets, up on the building: `Falstaff Tonight!' whatever. You're going to see trucks come up with sets. You're going to get involved, even if you're not a devotee of ballet and opera. With some decent planning on the part of the performers, they could have afternoon rehearsals open to the public. A great aria could be sung right here on the steps. And there's New Year's, with an audience of millions, TV crews filming the parade - and there's the opera house as the backdrop."