How a fight over art, land and development plans festered in Miami

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Two multi-millionaire art aficionados are dueling over creating Miami’s newest museum, leading to a bid protest that could be filed later this week. 

The fight over money, land and prestige pits Miami art dealer Gary Nader against developer Jorge Pérez, CEO of Related Group, with their running battle largely playing out in the pages of the Miami Herald.

Among other things, Nader desires to have his family name on a Latin American art museum and offers to seed one with $60 million worth of pieces from his own collection. Pérez already has his name on a building, downtown’s Pérez Art Museum Miami.

They both seek land owned by Miami Dade College, now used for faculty parking, to build some combination of museum, theater, conference center, and towers for offices and residential condos.

Complicating matters is the nearly three-acre lot’s proximity to the city’s iconic Freedom Tower. That has critics worried that the 17-story National Historic Landmark will be overshadowed by a huge development.

Moreover, the competition got nasty — and a touch weird — when photos taken by private investigators surfaced, purporting to show meetings between a Related executive and a lawyer advising the college and suggesting a conflict of interest.

No one claimed to have hired the investigators and the two women in question later said there was nothing nefarious: Their children were friends who attend the same school.

Now, the parties are in a race against the clock because, according to the South Florida Business Journal, “the Miami real estate market appears to be cooling down.”

Nader started the ball rolling by sending Miami Dade College an unsolicited proposal, the equivalent of a cold call, originally to build a museum and pair of 50-story towers, the money-making part of the deal.

The idea was that the college would hand over the land to the developer, then assume control of the museum through a public-private partnership and take a cut of the condo sales, according to one of the Herald’s stories.

But under state law, the college had to open up the proposal to other bidders. That led to four submissions in all, including one from Related and another from Gregg Covin Development.

The college ranked Related’s proposal No. 1 but, in another twist, authorized school officials to negotiate deals with both Nader’s group, Nader+Museu, and Related.

An insulted Nader lashed out in the press, calling Pérez “the worst thing that happened to culture in this town.” Pérez shot back that Nader’s remarks were “irresponsible and uncalled for.”

Meantime, Miami Dade College threw another wrench in the works, deciding to throw Covin onto the list of finalists and making it a three-way competition.

College president Eduardo Padrón believed adding yet another bidder in the mix would “put the school in a stronger position to secure the best possible deal,” the Herald reported.

Padrón charged college Provost Rolando Montoya with overseeing the negotiation and selection process.

At the same time, college trustees began complaining that knowledge of the deal was getting away from them because of secrecy requirements required under law.

There’s more: Soon after, Montoya suggested in an interview the college was getting cold feet over the whole project. “We have serious concerns about the future feasibility and operational expenses for a facility like a large museum with valuable works of art,” he told the Herald.

It turns out the college was more interested in the theater and conference center parts of the development, with Montoya saying a museum is too “costly to operate.” The school gave the final nod to Related, whose plan more than halved the original size of the museum that Nader had first proposed. 

Nader’s team soon cried foul, calling attention to the friendship between Related executive Lissette Calderon and the college’s outside counsel, Suzanne Amaducci-Adams, dug up by the private eyes. The whole process was “tainted,” they said.

That led to the college hiring Roberto Martinez, former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, to investigate and file a report that ultimately cleared the two women of any wrongdoing.

Their explanation: “Amaducci-Adams’ visits to Calderon’s home were simply pick-ups and drop-offs for her daughter, who is a friend and schoolmate of Calderon’s child,” the Herald explained. Amaducci-Adams also said she disclosed the connection to Montoya early on.

But Nader’s group didn’t stop there.

They also have pointed out that attorney Al Dotson, who happens to be with the same South Florida law firm as Amaducci-Adams, has his own conflict of interest.

Dotson represented Miami Dade College in the development bidding process but also worked for Related on an unrelated affordable housing project before the Miami-Dade County Commission, Nader attorney Bill Riley of Gray|Robinson said. 

To top it all off, Montoya stunned all the players by announcing he was retiring Aug. 8.

Nader had until Monday to file a formal bid protest, a quasi-legal challenge to the awarding of a government contract. But that deadline is pushed back because of a related action against the college in Miami-Dade Circuit court, according to Riley.

Nader’s team will submit its formal written protest once an injunction in that case is lifted, Riley said in an email: “Any other filing, including of the formal written protest, except as directed by the Court, would violate the injunction.”

Jim Rosica

Jim Rosica is the Tallahassee-based Senior Editor for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at [email protected]


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