The Art is the Matter

The curtain rises on Act II of the Dade Performing Arts Center Story. Is this a comedy or a tragedy? Depends on who you ask.

Sheila Anderson, a real estate executive and head of volunteer activities for the project, dismisses Gordon and his newfound group as opinionated Johnny-come-latelies. "He's repeated these comments all over town for a very long time," she says of Gordon's proposal. "His opinions are categorical assumptions not based on any expertise. This is a real estate development project, an economic development project. This will create a great number of jobs. There will be a tremendous multiplier effect."

"The decision about what was to be built was the product of three years of public meetings that Seth participated in," says Michael Spring, director of Metro-Dade's Cultural Affairs Council. "I just don't see a groundswell of support for abolishing the symphony hall. I don't think Seth is trying to mislead anyone, but I'm concerned that all the facts get on the table. I don't think it's wise to get so adversarial that the whole project gets derailed."

Trust members and county officials emphasize that neither their $170 million spending plan nor the proposed Knight-Ridder site is a done deal. A theater consultant and cost estimator are now being chosen by the trust to examine the feasibility of the project. The experts will also be asked to take a fresh look at Dade's artistic supply-and-demand and judge whether the county's proposal is reasonable or grossly out of scale. Meanwhile, the Arts Center Trust is in the process of being dissolved. A new advisory group will be established in the coming weeks to handle the construction and operation of whatever facility is finally built. The trust is still accepting nominations for representatives from various arts organizations across the county who will sit on the new board. Members must be approved by county commissioners, at a meeting yet to be scheduled.

Until recently the 600-member Miami chapter of the American Institute of Architects opposed the site of the performing arts center, saying the land offered by Knight-Ridder would doom the facility to obscurity. That opposition has been temporarily withdrawn since Sears Roebuck & Co. in June offered to donate to the county the company's landmark building on Biscayne Boulevard. Whether the building will be torn down or partially preserved, and exactly what part the Sears site will play in a reconfigured design for the center, will depend in part on the results of a report now being drafted by a county inspection team. Commissioners will vote October 9 to accept or reject Sears's land offer. Trust members say Gordon and his fledgling alliance should take heart: the Trust's chairman, lawyer Parker Thomson, has suggested that part of the historic Sears building could be turned into a small black-box theater, with exhibition space for graphic artists. Thomson, on vacation in Kenya, could not be reached for comment.

Alliance members remain skeptical of the county advisory group's guiding Dade's performing arts center project. Charles Dusseau, the lone Metro commissioner who attended the first meeting of the alliance, avoided clearly endorsing Gordon's vision. But he agreed commissioners need to hear more than the trust's view of the future. "Don't let us get so far down the road that we make a decision we can't back away from," Dusseau urged.

Architect Bernard Zyscovich, both a trust member and a supporter of the alliance, says he hopes the opposition group gets a lot of work done at its next meeting, tentatively scheduled for mid-October. "I was disappointed in the meeting because I felt there was no strategy for accomplishing our goals," Zyscovich says. "We need a focused strategy, not a bunch of well-meaning, well-deserving people without a plan. The alliance is embryonic. It needs to establish a method for achieving some power and influence, and it has to do it soon. I believe things are moving more rapidly than people realize.

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