South Dade Arts Center Behind Schedule

Miami-Dade County just can't get it right. In 2006, the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts opened more than two years behind schedule, costing taxpayers $472 million, which was almost twice the original construction estimate. Now similar problems are dogging the county's construction of the smaller-scale South Miami-Dade Cultural Center, according to a recently released Miami-Dade Inspector General report.

The county watchdog blames Miami-based Tower-OHL Group, the private contractor building the arts facility, for being more than 431 days behind schedule and for $2.3 million in cost overruns. In addition, the inspector general criticized the company for owing more than 50 workers a combined $117,000 in unpaid wages. Tower President Lauro Bravar did not return two phone messages seeking comment.

In 2005, the county awarded a $38.4 million contract to Tower to build a 71,500-square-foot theater and 7,500-square-foot activities building — designed by world-renowned Miami firm Arquitectonica. The county spent another $11.5 million for the construction materials. The 966-seat theater is divided into three levels, with an orchestra pit, a stage, dressing rooms, and administrative offices. It will also include an outdoor plaza for concerts, art fairs, and festivals. The project was championed by incoming County Commission Chairman Dennis Moss, who envisions the theater as an economic catalyst in Cutler Bay.

Michael Spring, director of the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs, which oversees Tower, took issue with the inspector general's report. "Everything in that report has been publicly disclosed by my department to the county manager, the mayor, and the county commission," Spring says, acknowledging the project is going to take twice as long to complete than Tower had promised. "The Tower Group is the one at risk," Spring says. "Whatever they have to fix is at their expense, plus delay penalties the company accrues daily."

Spring says Tower's performance improved since the firm was purchased in 2007 by OHL Group, a Spanish international construction conglomerate. This past November, Spring notes, Tower's new owners replaced the managers in charge of the center's construction. "I feel they are very impressive and have a grasp of the issues," Spring says of the new team. "To their credit, they formulated a plan that will get the job finished."

Still, Spring acknowledges, the cultural center's opening is at least another two years away.

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.