HIGH ART and the HIGH RISE
The potential home of the Nader Latin American Art Museum, Miami Dade College (MDC), has witnessed a different sort of expansion. In 2008–09, enrollment at the college jumped from 93,891 students to 146,060. In the 2013–14 academic year, MDC enrollment was at 161,632, making it one of the largest higher education institutions in the United States. According to a July 2011 report in the Miami New Times, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools issued the college a warning that the school needed to provide adequate full-time faculty for its growing student body in order to retain its accreditation.
The school’s reputation for its affordability and diversity has garnered the attention of so many politicians that it has become a town hall stage every election season for debates and campaign speeches. This spotlight has been the basis for a major redevelopment campaign by administrators and others unaffiliated with MDC. One such opportunity was posited last November in the form of an unsolicited bid by local gallerist and developer Gary Nader. His proposal for the land currently occupied by the school’s downtown parking lot includes a multitower luxury condo, a performing arts center, and a museum fitted with Nader’s personal collection. Unlike other local private collections, including the Margulies Collection at the Warehouse, de la Cruz Collection, CIFO, and the Rubell Family Collection that are located on private property, Nader hopes to secure public lands for his collection. Although the prospect of a public-private facility that combines luxury condos and a museum that houses an individual’s private collection may seem odd, MDC has not dismissed Nader’s bid. Instead, the college has used it to catalyze development of the land in question.
In June 2013, Governor Rick Scott signed House Bill 85 (HB 85), legislation designed to make it easier for private businesses to enter into public-private partnerships (P3s). While Miami-Dade County is no stranger to P3s, these projects were previously reserved for transportation, water, housing, and municipal infrastructure. The new law permits public entities, including counties, municipalities, school boards, regional entities, and state subdivisions to enter into public-private partnerships for any qualifying project that serves a public purpose. The benefit of P3s is that they allow the private sector to fund projects like new campus facilities without placing financial burdens on the public entity. HB 85 allows for multiple financing options, public entity loans, and flexibility to use innovative financing techniques, lifting barriers that kept many P3 projects on the shelf. Under HB 85, projects can move forward with alarming alacrity. In allowing for unsolicited bids, the public entity must open a public bidding period for no less than twenty-one days, but no more than one hundred twenty days. Critics of the legislation argued the bill’s statutory framework failed to provide safeguards for taxpayers and gave the initial bidder an unfair advantage over subsequent prospective offers from competitors who would have inadequate time to prepare. The bill was sponsored by Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, Representative Greg Steube, Miami Dade College President Dr. Eduardo J. Padrón, City of Miami Commission Chairman Marc Sarnoff, Made Dade College trustee and former president of the Latin Builders Association Bernie Navarro, and Chairman of the Board of Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida Carlos Adavin, along with other community advocates. The bill signing and reception with Governor Scott was hosted at Miami Dade College. “The OMNI Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Miami worked tirelessly to help make this legislation a reality. We are proud to stand alongside Governor Scott and Florida legislators in creating policies that will help to grow jobs in our community,” Sarnoff said at the signing.
In the months following the bill’s passing, Miami Dade College courted developers to expand its medical college on a 4.5-acre tract of land in the Miami Healthcare District. The current proposals for the downtown campus again provide MDC with an opportunity to expand its cache cosmetically. With the college property blocks from Pérez Art Museum Miami and the Adrienne Arsht Center, it’s clear why MDC associates new cultural centers as big projects capable of winning public esteem.
Like museums advertising new exhibitions on billboards, highway banners, and buses, Nader Latin American Art Museum—though still under consideration—launched an advertising campaign around the city last fall. The marketing for the museum presented the project as a done deal with Miami Dade College. In addition, from October 20 through January 21, the Nader Latin American Art Museum moved fifteen large-scale Fernando Botero sculptures to Bayfront Park. The bronzes, ranging from 14 to 166 inches in height, were situated along Biscayne Boulevard, just a few blocks south of MDC’s downtown Wolfson campus. These were some of the same sculptures Nader placed in the same park six years ago with the help of the OMNI Community Redevelopment Agency, which donated $25,000 to the project (the agency’s main purpose is to carry out development in communities determined to be mired by “slum and blight”). City of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado inaugurated the show the “Miami Sculptural Biennale” alongside Nader.
The preview show for the proposed Nader Latin American Art Museum is located on the second floor of the gallerist’s Wynwood warehouse. The wall text inside describes Nader’s collection as “one of the largest and most important of modern and contemporary from Latin America, the Caribbean, and the diaspora.” One can think of several collectors who may also share this desription, including Latin American art collectors Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, Bernardo Paz, Eugenio López Alonso (founder of Colección Jumex in Mexico City), and CIFO’s founder Ella Fontanals Cisneros. Nader owns a number of sculptures and paintings by Botero and he will donate twelve sculptures, four paintings, and eight watercolors to the new museum. According to the catalogue for the proposed project, he will also donate three paintings and four small sculptures by Wilfredo Lam. Other promised artworks include single paintings by Diego Rivera, Jesús Rafael Soto, Rufino Tamayo, Beatriz Milhazes, José Bedia, and a painting by Miguel Angel Ríos (although it is not representative of the artist’s seminal, large-scale map pieces), as well as works by Fabian Marcaccio, Roberto Matta, and Vik Muniz. The proposal Nader submitted includes a list of 180 artists whose artworks will be donated to the museum. Perhaps notably absent from his collection are artworks by Frida Kahlo, Lygia Clark, Félix González-Torres, Ana Mendieta, Alfredo Jaar, Victor Grippo, Francis Alÿs, Gabriel Orozco, and Doris Salcedo.
According to Nader’s proposal, in exchange for the conveyance of a fee simple title to the land, MDC will receive a cultural center that will include a museum, performing arts center, and sculpture garden at no cost to the college, with yearly art donations valued by Nader at $100,000. MDC will receive revenue from ticket sales (though university museums are generally free to students), revenue from special exhibitions, and revenue from general events. Should the culture center not yield sufficient funds to cover costs of maintaining the facility, a portion of Nader + Museu LLP will fund an endowment. Nader + Museu LLP will need to establish a Community Development District (a special tax district that levies taxes and assessments) in order to issue bonds of up to $160 million to begin the project. Museu currently estimates the cost of one tower at $350 million.
The untenable cost of college admission nationwide drives more and more students to enroll in more affordable community colleges. This has prompted hundreds of community colleges around the nation, including five in Florida, to provide low-cost student housing. The cost of in-state tuition at MDC is 61 percent lower than the national average, and ranks sixteenth in affordability in Florida. The net price a student pays out of pocket or finances through student loans is around $15,000 (assuming the student lives at home or works a full-time job). Seventy-eight percent of students enrolled at Miami Dade College receive aid in the form of Pell Grants. The fact that such a high percentage of the student body should qualify for federal aid is no surprise considering Miami ranks fourth in income inequality of any US city. Miami continues to rank highest among least affordable cities in the United States, with middle-class households in Miami-Dade spending 72 percent of their income on transportation and housing costs. Rather than addressing the needs of tens of thousands of students commuting to MDC’s campuses each day, MDC is helping drive up the cost of living for its students. “Public-private partnerships are expected to create new jobs, and our students, whom we train vigorously to prepare for the workforce, will be ready to fill those needs. I look forward to working alongside Governor Scott to create and expand opportunities for our students and families,” said Miami Dade College President Dr. Eduardo J. Padrón. If approved, the Nader Latin American Art Museum and condominiums may not provide the jobs students at the college envision, but the fetching price for its residences will certainly guarantee everyone’s commute.
Laura Randall is a Miami native who holds a master’s degree in art history. She works as an independent curator and writer.