Miami-Dade County just threw the troubled Frost Museum of Science a lifeline.
Commissioners passed a $49 million bailout package for the troubled downtown Miami project with a 12-1 vote Tuesday.
The museum fell into serious financial trouble earlier this year when its private fundraising efforts fell significantly short of its goals. Almost all of the $165 million Miami-Dade had pledged toward the project was already spent, leaving doubt over whether the museum could pay its general contractor, Skanska, its $5 million to $7 million monthly bill for construction.
And to compound that issue, the museum was turned down in its search for a $100 million bank loan because the project didn’t have enough pledges.
That put the county in a tight spot: it could recuse itself from paying out more taxpayer dollars to a project it’s already heavily subsidizing, or authorize the $49 million bailout plan to get the museum opened.
“This is certainly not my preferred action, but it is our only opportunity to complete this project and hopefully open the museum’s doors by the end of this year,” county Mayor Carlos Gimenez said at the meeting. “The Frost museum is far too important to let it fall through the cracks.”
The approved plan would take away a $4 million annual subsidy proposed for the museum’s operating costs, and instead give the museum a lump sum so it can complete its construction. The subsidy would begin again once the debt is paid off in 15 years, but until then, the museum has to run within its budget — commissioners stressed the project won’t receive any more county dollars.
During the crisis, the Frost family wiped out the museum’s board of trustees because of the fundraising shortfalls and replaced them with a handful of their affiliates, including Patricia Frost herself. Patricia and Philip Frost also donated $45 million to the project, which gave them naming rights over the museum. Michael Spring, direct of the county’s Department of Cultural Affairs, and Deputy Mayor Ed Marquez will also serve on the museum’s board to provide county oversight.
Although commissioners repeatedly mentioned during the meeting that they felt this was the only course of action, the plan was not without its detractors. Commissioner Juan Zapata cast the sole dissenting vote.
Raquel Regalado, a county schools board member who’s running for Miami-Dade mayor, said during the meeting that there has to be accountability for the financial trap the county found itself in. She asked commissioners to delay the vote.
“The residents of Miami-Dade County deserve better than this,” she said.