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"Most big redevelopment projects have a history of many years of things falling down and then the right combination of people comes along," Thomas says with reassuring confidence. The key, as Thomas sees it, is being realistic about funding sources and building a sustainable program. "What we have to do is go through a really careful consultation process. You need to make sure you know all the stakeholders. You need to know: What will be the big draw?"
What about the cost?
"Unfortunately a lot of those numbers are moving targets," admits the chairwoman of the Miami Museum of Science board, Louise Valdes-Fauli. With her perky sorority bob and serious business suit, Valdes-Fauli efficiently ticks off the costs that need to be covered. She gets a little ticked off herself when pressed for more specifics. "We have over a 50-year history," she snaps. "We are not a new museum starting up a huge building. We have seen economic cycles. We've experienced them."
Together Thomas and Valdes-Fauli run down the "income strands" the new science center would generate: education programs, research projects, hire of the waterfront facilities by corporate partners, rental of the teleconferencing technology by small companies who can't afford their own. "If one base turns down, another base comes along," says Thomas. "Flexibility allows you to adapt quite rapidly."
That all sounds good, but why must the Science Center be on waterfront parkland? In addition to the calming surroundings and wide-open spaces, Thomas sees exhibitions designed to physically change when triggered by shifts in the reflection off the water. She sees an aquarium built as a spectacular wall of fish and digital video feeds from a reef in the Caribbean. She envisions marine biology research conducted near the site that will allow visitors to the museum to mingle with "real" scientists.
"I think the key is that the waterfront can be used," adds Valdes-Fauli. "We are open 363 days a year. You're not leaving the park empty and closed."
Suzanne Delahanty will not be left behind. "Since MAM and Science started working with the city," she coos, "the three of us have become almost triplets." The MAM director has just returned from Fort Worth, Texas, "the museum capital of the Southwest," and is reporting to chairman of the board Aaron Podhurst on her tour of the new Museum of Modern Art building designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando. The director's 'do, like her smart jacket and pants, is all black clean lines, a stark contrast to her white skin and burnished silver jewelry. She assesses the Ando building with the cool eye of a real estate developer.
"The building is 153,000 square feet," Delahanty recites. "The cost for construction, furniture, and fixtures is $65 million."
Roughly the same size planned for MAM. "If it's $60 million. If it's $70 million," Podhurst breaks in. "Whatever it's going to take [to build the new MAM]. It's got to be world class, otherwise no one will come to see it."
Speaking of world class, Delahanty flips through the MAM-generated booklet called A World-Class Vision for a World-Class City, lingering briefly over the stunning architectural achievement that is the waterfront Milwaukee Art Museum. Oops. What about museums like Milwaukee's that spent all the money on construction, then couldn't meet operating costs?
"We can learn from other people's lessons," Delahanty counters. "We're certainly not going to do something that will keep us off keel."
So how will MAM cover operating costs?
"Museum Park is a cog in an overall downtown development plan," Podhurst declares. "Issues such as parking and moving [Interstate] 395 [will depend on] the mayor's master plan. Mayor [Manny] Diaz in my opinion is a visionary person. So is Johnny Winton."
Does that mean there will be a high level of public funding?
"A large part will be private but some will be public," clarifies Podhurst. "This is not just going to be a [private] art museum. It will be open to the public. I want to be the opposite of an elitist -- what's the word?"
"Populist?" New Times suggests.
"Inclusive," Delahanty revises.
"Inclusive," Podhurst repeats, satisfied. "I want the fifth-grade underprivileged kid to have access to what they don't have access to. Not only the guy with the great art collection."
Okay, so what about the endowment?
"How big will the endowment be?" Podhurst asks himself. "As big as I can make it." Rather than quote dollar figures, Podhurst refers to the prominent community figures he has enlisted to head MAM's capital campaign: Ambassador Paul Cejas, Jorge Perez of the Related Groups, and pharmaceuticals tycoon Phil Frost, who has already committed money and his family name to FIU's new museum that will break ground next November.
"Whatever we need, we're going to get done and pledged," Podhurst promises. "Before you put a shovel in the ground you have got to get all the people who are able to contribute. Okay, Mr. Big Shot. How much is it going to be? I can't give you a certain price. What I am saying is the money is out there.
"Chicken or the egg?" he continues. "I don't know whether the building comes first, the endowment comes first, or the collection comes first. First you've got to get the piece of land."