By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
FITZCARRALDO: I'm doing all this because I have one dream. The opera.
The great opera in the jungle.
MOLLY: Fitzcarraldo will build it, and Caruso'll sing the premiere. It's only the dreamers who ever move mountains.
Fitzcarraldo, Werner Herzog
THE MOUTH OF A GIFT HORSE
Perhaps you haven't heard, but Miami is close to breaking ground for the biggest performing arts center ever built at one time on planet Earth.
By 1996, the city's centennial, expect to see the first perfumed and well-coiffed crowds streaming out of a grand, chandeliered lobby onto Biscayne Boulevard, enraptured by performances of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, or Puccini's Tosca, or Beethoven's Eroica.
The imposing presence rising near Biscayne Bay - a $169 million temple of dance, drama, and music - will touch the depths of your soul and awe the rest of America. It will mark the final, passionate maturity of a great metropolis, transform the arts scene in Miami, enhance the value of real estate, alter patterns of commerce, and bring downtown gloriously into focus. Dade County's five main performing arts groups - the Greater Miami Opera, the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra, the Miami City Ballet, the New World Symphony, and the Concert Association of Greater Miami - will have a permanent home, built to last two centuries or more.
Blue-collar worker and millionaire alike will contribute to this grand project, though it will likely be named for some elderly and extremely wealthy patron of the arts. No matter. Where a void has existed - in the cultural life of Miami, in its urban landscape, and in its collective psyche - finally there will be a center, both physical and symbolic. This gargantuan glitter dome, fruit of the greatest act of civic will in local history, could accomplish something we ask from no other collection of bricks and mortar: it could begin to heal our fractured spirit.
Or so some people believe.
It took a quarter-century of idle talk, a decade of feasibility studies and false starts, and two full years of tedious meetings to get to this point - the point where Dade County's behemoth-by-the-bay has found financing, a site, and a design configuration coherent enough to put before the nine-member Board of County Commissioners for approval, perhaps within the next 30 days.
The present plan, approved by a county advisory committee known as the Performing Arts Center Trust, calls for a vast 2700-seat opera house and a 2200-seat symphony hall. A smaller 600-to-800-seat theater might be included if the most ambitious plans are realized. Money to build and maintain the culture palace would come from $25 million in state government grants, $40 million in private donations, and some $114 million taken from Dade's seven-year-old tourist development tax, the same tax that built the Miami Arena, the Miami Beach Convention Center, and the Homestead Sports Complex.
Land for the project - 3.45 acres directly in front of the Miami Herald building - would be provided in a long-term lease by Knight-Ridder Inc., the newspaper's corporate parent. According to the plan, the arts complex would become the centerpiece of a Knight-Ridder land development scheme for the four-block area between the MacArthur and Venetian causeways east of Biscayne Boulevard. Dade's performing arts center would sit in the middle of the Knight-Ridder tract, split by a pedestrian shopping gallery, serviced by two new Metromover stations scheduled to open in 1993, and ringed by four parking lots destined to become stores or office buildings or high-rise condos sometime in the 21st Century.
The Performing Arts Center Trust, the 32-member body that gave birth to this plan, is about to be disbanded. A new nonprofit corporation is being created to direct the construction and operation of the arts center. By next month county staffers will have formally invited acousticians and theater consultants to apply for jobs overseeing the early stages of the mammoth project. Within a matter of months, the river of cash that is Dade's tourist development tax can be diverted from other civic projects and channeled toward this one. The details of a crucial interlocal tax agreement between the county and the cities of Miami and Miami Beach are nearly complete.
But just when the vision has finally gained focus and palpable momentum, a chorus of critics has vowed to sabotage the accepted plan. They say - loudly - that the Performing Arts Center Trust has been too quick to trade an ugly parcel of free land for a role in Knight-Ridder's real estate development scenario. They call the present blueprint absurdly grandiose and patently elitist, a recipe for financial and architectural disaster, poisoned with hubris and fundamentally misguided from the start.
"It's like a bunch of hillbillies from the Ozarks deciding they want a Lincoln Continental when they can't afford to feed their kids," proclaims Seth Gordon, chairman of the New World School of the Arts and a dissaffected former member of the Trust. "We've got women dying because they have to wait months to get cancer treatment at Jackson Hospital. We have armies of homeless people camped out under our bridges. That's what will immediately strike the general public when they look at this plan. They're going to say, `What the hell is this? What have these people been smoking? Where have they been?' Well, where they've been is off in a hermetically sealed bubble thinking delusional thoughts. Incredible thoughts."
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."
"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!
"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."
Zyscovich is gazing again at one of his favorite pieces of land. He says he hasn't talked to the owners, a Middle Eastern investment group called Zaminco Columbus Inc. that also owns the Freedom Tower. It would be the county's job, not his, to negotiate land acquisition, Zyscovich says. But that would require some new will power. "If the objective is to have the best possible facility for this county for the next 100 years, it's unbelievably ignorant to proceed because we're afraid of losing momentum," he states. "We're not going to lose momentum. The more visible it becomes, the more in the public eye it becomes, in a sense the more controversial it becomes, the more energy it draws to itself. The energy is not going to be in the form of `Let's kill it.' The energy is now in the opposite direction: `Let's see how good we can make it.'"
TOO ELITIST, TOO CORPORATE, TOO SELF-SERVING: ATTACK OF THE ACTIVIST
George Knox, 47-year-old attorney at law, stretches out his incredibly long and bony hands and wiggles them oddly on the axis of his wrists. His booming voice is thick with the Old Testament. A law-firm underling creeps in the door with a message, and is promptly chased away by a resounding salvo. Knox's wife calls. The voice softens. He promises to pick something up at the cleaners.
"We need places for people to perform, but we need so much more than that," he says, hanging up the phone and resuming the booming. "We need a unifying factor. We need something positive to think about in Miami associated with architecture.
"Look out there!" he shouts, swiveling in his chair ten floors floors above Flagler Street and pointing toward the window. "The CenTrust Tower is the one thing that distinguishes Miami. It's a joke, that this is what's lit up in our community at night: a monument to greed that's owned by the feds because of a fellow who's alleged to be a carpetbagger and a fraud."
Knox is explaining why he likes the giant scale of Miami's current performing arts center plan - but not the proposed site. "There are promoters and real estate developers in this community who understand that along Biscayne Bay in the City of Miami is the most desirable place for anybody with sufficient means to live," he explains. "Because the view across the bay is probably the finest view in the United States of America. And people are coming back - we're having a regentrification of the urban area.
"So they say to themselves, `Let's create a city within a city,'" Knox continues. "`Let's look at midtown and see how we can continue doing what's already going on there.' Which is prohibitively expensive residences that people are likely to purchase because everything that's important in this community is readily accessible.
"Now all of a sudden you live on the 44th-floor penthouse of Knight-Ridder Place" - a wicked grin spreads across Knox's face - "and your office is on a 21st-floor penthouse on Brickell. All you have to do is stroll downstairs and get on the Peoplemover and go to work. And you can stay late, because your dinner'll be catered, and then you cruise down the elevator to the opera, you have a cup of coffee, and you go upstairs and go to bed. `We can develop this New Town in the Omni area,' the real estate people say to themselves. `But we really need this performing arts center as one of the components. It'll help us kill two birds with one stone.'
"I think that the package was put together early and quietly," Knox says. "There was either a deliberate or inadvertant strategy to have the package completed by the time it was presented to the public. I object to that because it puts too great a burden on the public body that has responsibilty for debate and dialogue. There's pressure on them to just rubber-stamp something in the name of `We've been working on this a long time,' or `Look, the whole thing is coherent, it's solid, no loopholes. Let's act fast.' As it stands, this an elitist concept to service an elitist crowd of folk.
"You don't use an economic-development magnet in order to populate high-income housing," Knox insists. "You use it to inspire the redevelopmenmt of a blighted area that needs an infusion of that nature in order that it can no longer be blighted. People have spent time, energy, and money in Overtown-Park West. It needs a new boost or it's going to die before it even gets completed. And because people don't see anything happen - as they were promised - they're going to stop renting and leasing and buying in Overtown-Park West. You'll have another idea that just went sour. Meantime, the Omni-Venetia area is flourishing.
"This is a legitimate community issue, and all I'm doing is calling for a public dialogue," Knox says, summing up. "When the decision is made, I'll support it wholeheartedly. I'm still a team player. But don't let the decision get made without a public dialogue. If you do that, your motives have every right to be questioned."
TOO MUCH, TOO SOON, TOO VAIN: ATTACK OF THE ARTS CONSCIENCE
"They're aiming for adolescence at a time when they ought to be trying to be grown-ups," says Seth Gordon, the New World School of the Arts' 43-year-old board chairman, describing his ex-colleagues on the Performing Arts Center Trust. "They want a big shiny bauble, when with a little more maturity, they could build something that's affordable and reasonable and functional. I think if I heard the phrase `world-class facility' one more time I would have pulled my hair out. It's the language of someone laboring under a gigantic inferiority complex.
"The funniest thing," says Gordon, "is when they start talking about the Sydney Opera House. For them it's a great cultural icon. It's a world-class facility. But the truth is, it was developed purely because poor Sydney, the armpit of Australia, was so worried about its image. The city fathers got together and said, `We'll show them! We're not nearly so third-rate as the world thinks we are!' So they built this thing that's an acoustic disaster, and looks good only if you're hovering in a helicopter three-quarters of a mile out over the bay. It looks pretty neat on a postcard, though. There are people who wouldn't mind building another Sydney Opera House in Miami.
"They also like to talk about the new performing arts center in Fort Lauderdale," Gordon goes on. "It's not a bad hall, but it's too big. The lobby looks like [architect] Ken Treister on an acid trip. It's all a mishmash of different colors and fabrics and textures and geometric designs, all kind of whooshed together, ugly as sin. From the front of the stage to the end of the hall, you couldn't throw a baseball that far. It's cavernous. If they ever tried to do something there that wasn't electronically enhanced, there's no way you could ever hear anybody. And yet the Broward Center for the Performing Arts has become another talisman.
"The best halls are smaller," Gordon asserts, swatting at a bug in the window of the Brickell Emporium, all but knocking over his glass of grapefruit juice. "Bigger is not a mark of quality. Sometimes it's a mark of economic desperation. When we talk about a 2400-seat opera house, that's really kind of big. We ought to be talking more about 2100, maybe 2000 seats. That's when everyone has reasonable sight lines, reasonable intimacy with the stage, you feel like you're part of the show. You get much bigger, and it becomes a barn."
The bug in the window has been a deep distraction, but now the bug is gone. A flock of youngish lawyers passes Gordon's table and they stop to chat briefly. "The county commissioners are way off base," he resumes once the lawyers have left. "They think what they're hearing is the will of the arts community. And I don't think they are at all. They're hearing from some staff people at large cultural institutions who have a very focused attitude: `I am the director of the opera. I want to look out for the creature comforts and the facilities needs of the opera, and I don't care about - and I'm not paid to care about - anything else.'
"The commissioners are paid to care about other things, and they ought to be more interested in building audiences at the rassroots than providing a shiny temple downtown for the dwindling audiences that already exist," Gordon says. "My theory is that you build a network of small, accessible arts facilities around the county, and you lure people in. Over time they will then step up to the grand halls downtown. But if all you build are the halls downtown, and you don't have any network of more accessible theaters, the arts in this city will actually die over time. You won't be creating the next generation of audiences.
"Whose interests are we serving here?" he asks. "As wonderful as all these big institutions are, they're generally staffed by people who we've imported from someplace else. The performers in the opera have been trained and begun their career someplace else, and we bring them here. Same with the Philharmonic.
"The kind of facilities I'm talking about are places where the local people go," Gordon says. "Where people from around town, kids from the New World School of the Arts, can begin their careers. Small stages, small audiences, places where you can make mistakes, develop new skills, and then eventually step up where you might be on the stage at the opera. We could do this rather than continue to be a way station for itinerant artists, which is what we are now.
"If you spend all your big money up front on these dinosaurs, you're never going to have the wherewithal to build the little ones," he reiterates. "The little ones are so damned cheap. You take the Colony, which is a beautiful theater [on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach], 460 seats. The problem is that when you're a dancer or performer there, you're changing your clothes outside the back door because there are no dressing rooms. For $600,000 or $800,000, they can add the dressing rooms. It's a tiny investment relative to a $65 million symphony hall.
"The highest number I've ever heard for the restoration costs of the Gusman Center downtown is about $15 million. The problems with Gusman are both aesthetic - it's ratty, and the carpet's ripped, seats need to be replaced - and structural. The front of the stage is too narrow, it needs to be opened up. You'd have to cut it and expand it, and maybe add a loading dock. But it would make a perfectly good home for the symphony. So even if you take that number and you added five million dollars more for the Colony Theater, the Manuel Artime center in Little Havana, the old Lyric Theatre in Overtown, and the others, you would save $40 million by not building the symphony.
"The way the plan reads now, it's sort of like were going to build the opera and the symphony hall, and after that, if there's money left over, we're going to do all these smaller projects," Gordon says. "But that means it's going to be six or eight years from now. And I suspect that since the money from the private fund-raising isn't going to be there, and the money from the state isn't going to be there, every nickel of the [hotel] tax money will be needed. If I were in charge of building this performing arts center, I'd make sure there wasn't a nickel left over. I'd want to have a higher-quality marble, and I'd want to upgrade the carpet. I'd find ways to spend every dime that was in the revenue stream.
"Decision one: don't build the symphony hall," Gordon suggests. "All of a sudden you have $10 million, $20 million to spend on land if you want to. So you aren't locked into accepting an unacceptable site because it's free. You free up your options. Anybody who looks at it should realize that that's a real dumb way to build a public facility. We don't build anything else that way. What if we only built schools where we could get a free site? Or prisons? That's nuts!