Vote for Culture

What exactly does that mean? Today we know it means that two museums will receive hundreds of millions of dollars to build hulking structures in a waterfront park. But on November 2, most people had no clue

With the fate of Museum Park in the balance, it was time for Miami-Dade's establishment to help ensure passage of the bonds. Keeping in mind advice from Dario Moreno, Al Lorenzo, Francois Illas, and other political strategists -- that success depended on a sufficiently vague campaign touting the importance of all eight bond questions -- heads of cultural groups and several of Miami's business leaders met with Burgess in August to discuss strategy. Hank Klein, vice chairman of Codina Realty Services; Allen Harper, chairman of Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell Realtors; and real estate lawyer Jorge Luis Lopez, a Vizcaya trustee, would be in charge of raising private funds for a media campaign. Lopez (who also had a $50 million bond item for Vizcaya on the line) filed papers on September 17 to set up a political action committee dubbed Neighbors Building Better Communities.

Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and Commissioner Winton -- the political vanguard of the city's real estate boom -- were among the first called into action. Their target: downtown real estate developers. Gordon Reyes & Company, a PR firm whose clients include companies with high-rise projects downtown, organized a fundraiser, which was held on September 22 at the JW Marriott in Coral Gables. By the end of the evening, several condo builders, including Tibor Hollo, Ugo Colombo, Jorge Perez, and Gregg Covin (whose high-rise condo across from Bicentennial Park is named 10 Museum Park) had donated $20,000 each. One company, Infinity at Brickell, gave $50,000.

Miami Art Museum director Suzanne Delehanty, who believes the people have spoken, has reason to smile
Jonathan Postal
Miami Art Museum director Suzanne Delehanty, who believes the people have spoken, has reason to smile
Gillian Thomas, president of the Miami Museum of Science, tried going it alone but was smacked down by the county commission
Jonathan Postal
Gillian Thomas, president of the Miami Museum of Science, tried going it alone but was smacked down by the county commission

Meanwhile, Klein, Harper, and Lopez were working their connections. The Miami Business Forum and the University of Miami kicked in $25,000 each. Vizcaya and MAM supplied $50,000 each. The Historical Association of Southern Florida, which operates the historical museum, wrote a check for $100,000, as did the Downtown Development Authority, whose board includes elected officials and business executives. In just over two weeks the PAC took in $536,000. Another $569,000 was rounded up over the next two weeks. The biggest sums were $100,000 from the Jackson Memorial Foundation, $100,000 from the science museum, another $50,000 each from Vizcaya and MAM, $50,000 from the Zoological Society of Florida, $50,000 from high-rise developer Terra International Developments, $25,000 from Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, and $25,000 from American Airlines.

About $700,000 of the more than $1.1 million raised was funneled to Turkel Advertising for production and placement of a single television commercial. The ad, which ran many times on most Spanish- and English-language stations, cunningly avoided specifics while imploring viewers to vote yes on all eight GOB questions if they really wanted a better Miami-Dade for their children and grandchildren. The PAC spent some $65,000 for Spanish, English, and Creole radio ads with the same theme. Campaign Data, a local political research firm that often works in tandem with pollster Dario Moreno and political strategist Al Lorenzo, received $67,000 for focus groups and voter surveys. Another $56,000 went to four groups, including the African-American Council of Christian Clergy, to "get out the vote." Coral Gables-based Washington Economics Group received $25,000 for an "economic impact study." The PAC even fed its election-day troops, running up a bill of $1200 at the Football Sandwich Shop in Little Haiti. In the end, it seemed that Greg Bush and the Urban Environment League once again had been out-organized.

Just a month before the election, the UEL had threatened to launch a public campaign against #8 unless the museums committed to limiting their projects to four acres each, the promise they'd made two years earlier to Johnny Winton. The commissioner says he was "irked" last year when Delehanty and Thomas began speaking publicly about taking control of another four acres each for outdoor features. "The museums hurt themselves by talking about eight acres each, because what they did was fuel the fire for the people who are bent on keeping them out of the park, period."

Though UEL president Nancy Liebman told New Times sixteen acres was "totally unacceptable" ("Museums to the Max," September 30), she faced a dilemma: The museums' plans were grouped in #8 with sixteen historic-preservation projects. Liebman couldn't attack the museums without jeopardizing those projects and her ties to the Dade Heritage Trust, Vizcaya, and other groups. So Delehanty, Thomas, and other #8 supporters had Liebman in a corner when she sat down for negotiations on Monday, October 4. The venue itself -- the home of historian Arva Parks and her husband Bob McCabe -- summed up Liebman's problem. Parks is one of Miami's best-known historic-preservation advocates, and McCabe is a UEL board member. Also present were MAM director Suzanne Delehanty, MAM board co-president Rose Ellen Meyerhoff Greene, science museum director Gillian Thomas, county cultural affairs director Michael Spring, Rich Heisenbottle and Becky Matkov of the Dade Heritage Trust, and Liebman, Bush, John de Leon, and Ernie Martin of the Urban Environment League.

The UEL contingent had come determined to extract a written agreement from the museum directors re-establishing the four-acre maximum. But Delehanty and Thomas were steadfast. "They just would not budge," Liebman says. Thomas was "eloquent" in making a case that the museums needed to be a certain size to be "credible." The UEL president also found architect Heisenbottle persuasive. "He said, öYou can have a footprint of four acres that doesn't look like four acres,'" Liebman recalls, adding that it was "a little scary" when Heisenbottle noted that the American Airlines Arena sits on four acres.

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