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I'm a business journalist and a fiction author. My novel Mute is available now from Silver Leaf Books.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Miami’s wealthy have failed the Frost Museum of Science

Seemingly everyone in Miami loves the idea of a world class science museum downtown but few are willing to pay for its construction, except for public officials using taxpayer money and the Frosts.

The Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science would be a showcase for wonder and innovation in the heart of the city. In the middle of building the $305 million project, the non-profit ran out of cash. It burned through $160 million in county funds and it’s not asking for another $45 million up front instead of over time. The suggestion that a community redevelopment agency should direct its property tax funds to the museum instead of building facilities for low-income residents (what else is new?) has drawn controversy.

In a city inundated with cash and frequented by many of the world’s wealthiest people, hardly anyone has stepped up to make a significant donation to this project. I’ve heard from countless developers building downtown that the Frost Museum would be a great draw and benefit their projects. Condo investors see it as another amenity for the neighborhood, one they don’t have to pay association dues for. Many downtown retail and hospitality business owners expect it to attract more visitors.

Then why are so few of them cutting big checks? Do they expect to reap all the benefits without contributing to the cause?

The Frosts are by far the biggest donors with $45 million followed by the Knight Foundation with $10 million. If this were New York or Boston or Washington, D.C., there would be a long list of headline making donors after that. The fact that there’s not, really says something.

People come to Miami and buy real estate, expensive clothes, meals from celebrity chefs, and six-figure cars. Corporations and investment funds are paying record prices for Miami property, from apartment buildings to retail strips. They rarely make a true investment for the good of the community, which is what this museum is all about.

People like to brag about Miami being on the cutting edge of STEM, the next city on the rise. In reality, we’re playing catch up with other regions of the country when it comes to science. The Frost Museum could inspire a generation of local scientists, maybe even creating some jobs that actually pay enough to afford living here.

Is anyone going to step up and invest in Miami’s future?

Sometimes return on investment isn’t measured on a balance sheet.