Miami Arts Center Work Getting Back on Track

Thu January 20, 2005 - Southeast Edition
Angela B. Hurni

Since the mid-1980s, leaders in Miami’s art community and patrons of the arts have been hoping for a centralized arena to enjoy the city’s varied performing arts.

That dream will be realized in less than two years as the countdown to the grand opening of the Miami Performing Arts Center begins.

As with any large-scale endeavor, there have been obstacles to overcome, but a new construction leadership team has taken over and work is proceeding smoothly.

The Miami Performing Arts Center is a group of performance halls being built on approximately 6 acres (2.4 ha) in Downtown Miami on both sides of Biscayne Boulevard between N.E. 13th and 14th streets. The separate venues being built include the 2,400-seat Sanford and Dolores Ziff Ballet Opera House, the 2,200-seat Carnival Symphony Hall and a 200-seat black box Studio Theater.

Plans for the center also feature the Peacock Education Center, a restored Art Deco Tower, and a Plaza for the Arts that will link the Center buildings across Biscayne Boulevard

The $413-million center is a Miami-Dade managed project. According to Bill Johnson, assistant county manager, the Miami Performing Arts Center “is the largest public/private project ever undertaken by the government in this community.” Johnson also stated that the center is “the largest of its type built in the last 40 years in this country.”

The center was designed by architect Cesar Pelli of Cesar Pelli & Associates. Performing Arts Center Builders (PACB) is responsible for the construction of the new facility. PACB is a combined venture of three construction companies: Odebrecht Construction Inc., The Haskell Company and Ellis Don Corporation.

In June 2003, the owner of the project, which is Miami-Dade County, and the new County Manager George Burgess, felt that the job was in trouble due to quality problems and schedule overruns. With construction already in progress for approximately two years, URS Corporation and its program director, Tim Ackert, came on board as program manager.

“Poor communication and poor working environment meant we had to restructure to make it go smoothly,” explained Ackert. Everyone involved agreed with the assessment.

While Ackert said that mistakes in judgment may have been made by all parties involved, “Everyone associated with the job made a concerted effort not to point fingers.”

URS Corporation was brought in to provide the county with a stronger team.

Part of the restructuring involved hiring stronger field support because not all parties are strong in all areas. GBBN Architects, of Cincinnati, already a subconsultant to Pelli, increased its involvement because of its strong field work, he said.

Ron Austin, president of Vital Management Solutions, originally working as a consultant because of his strong background in theaters, has now been appointed as the director of construction for the county.

Austin and Ackert have been working together to resolve claims and encourage all parties to work together. Ackert said that the claims were settled for a substantially smaller amount, and “We tied down the schedule; we worked out a confirmed completion date of August 2006.”

In the end, the county has supplied additional money to keep the job going forward. PACB settled claims and is now working for no profit. Pelli, likewise, has settled claims to a reduced amount and is going forward without profit.

“If the job is not completed by August 2006,” Ackert added, “all will go forward without payment.”

Gail Eaton, chief marketing officer of the Miami Performing Arts Center, said that change is part of the construction industry. Costs, orders, people involved — all these things can and probably will change with a project of this magnitude.

“Change orders are part of the construction business,” explained Eaton. “You change things because you address real time and real problems in the process of building anything.”

With the changes, things appear to be getting back on track.

“Since restructuring in July, we’ve maintained our schedule, have a good safety record and have had no claims or quality problems,” Ackert said. Having this project turn around like it has is a real testament to the commitment of all parties involved, he concluded.

At this point in the project, both the Sanford and Dolores Ziff Ballet Opera House and the Carnival Symphony Hall have been entirely enclosed and air-conditioned. Since workers are no longer dependent on weather conditions, they can now begin work on interior projects such as painting, plastering, adding wood finishes and installing doors.

The Miami Center for Performing Arts will be substantially completed in June 2006, and punch list items will be finished by August 2006. The center should be ready for the public grand opening in fall 2006.