The Miami Herald reports that, following two hours of debate and public comment, the commissioners voted unanimously to provide the extra money — and to impose more strict oversight of the Center's budget and administration. About 30 members of the public attended the meeting wearing yellow t-shirts to show support for the Carnival Center, according to the paper. None of the speakers argued against the bailout, though a number of the commissioners expressed anger at the center's planners and management for misjudging their budgets and operating costs so badly.
Last month Carnival Center administrators revealed that the complex would run out of cash entirely by mid-June without the extra subsidy. The budget deficit for the first season, expected to be $150,000, turned out to be $3 million; monthly operating costs, budgeted at $306,250, actually ran to $647,844.
Some embarrassing planning and budgeting errors came to light in the course of explaining the fiscal shortfall to county commissioners (who stated their objections loudly and clearly, according to the Herald). The cost of police services for the Carnival Center campus on performance nights had not been figured into the operating budget. Revenue from ticket sales for the Center's first season was overestimated. The building area figure on which operating costs were calculated was 49,000 square feet less than the buildings actually occupy. Most notoriously, planners calculated the cost of air-conditioning the buildings based on square footage (the floor space alone) rather than cubic footage (the actual enclosed space in which air needs to be cooled).
The financial difficulties of the Carnival Center's first season follow years of controversy over the ballooning costs and schedule overruns of the complex's construction. The Miami-Dade County Commission originally approved, in 1990, a budget of $165 million to build the center; the final cost was $473 million. (Such increases in construction costs and schedules over what was initially approved are very common with new performing arts centers.)
In an open letter to the Miami-Dade community released today, Carnival Center president Michael C. Hardy said, "The staff, our boards, our volunteers and the 300,000 people who've attended this year's shows and events at the Center are deeply grateful to the Commissioners for their votes, as well as to the offices of Mayor Carlos êlvarez and County Manager George Burgess for their support and guidance. As we prepare for our second year of operation, we pledge to the elected officials and citizens of Miami-Dade County that we will build upon what we have learned and add to our many successes so that the generous public support we have consistently received will be both justified and rewarded."