Miami Art Museum's New Building Breaks Ground and Into Barcelona's "Cool"

Miami may not produce delicious paella, world-class wine, or soccer teams so good an entire nation has an orgasm every time its scores.

But we will soon have an art museum to rival classy Barcelona's fancy institutions. At least, that's what a parade of city and county officials promised today during a Bicentennial Park groundbreaking ceremony for the new Miami Art Museum (MAM).

"We are competing with the Barcelonas and the great cities of

the world," said Miami-Dade Manager George Burgess. "This project is

symbolic of the fantastic cultural community that we have become."

None of the event's speakers -- including Burgess and county mayor Carlos Alvarez -- seemed worried about the fact that MAM is still $30 million short of its promise of $100 million in private funds. That would match a $100 million in county bond proceeds for the project, approved in a 2004 election.

The recession has hit Miami hard since then, putting into question the logic of constructing costly new facilities.

MAM Director Thom Collins said the museum had raised $70 million so far, but that includes cash and pledges, which are not guaranteed.

The new art museum, which will eventually be flanked by a futuristic science museum, has been dogged by delays, board departures, and funding worries. It was originally scheduled to open next year, but won't be ready until at least 2013.

"What's taken so long?" asked Collins. "This is an incredibly complex project in an incredibly complex city."

Collins said the new MAM would be "the museum facility of the future," bringing in 200,000 annual visitors, generating $12-13 million-worth of downtown business, and creating hundreds of temporary and permanent jobs.

"This park is spectacular," he added. "I would bet a lot of people don't even know it's here."

Well, except for the homeless people who once lived in Bicentennial Park. They certainly knew it was there until the bulldozers rolled in last year. But Collins said he was unaware of any public opposition to the museum.

Mayor Alvarez also dismissed the museum's naysayers. "There is a lot of people who just don't want to do this right now," he said. "But that's not an option. If you want to grow the city, this is the way to do it."

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.