We were intent on the highest goals. We didn’t compromise. We created a vibrant arts center that has transformed audiences and the neighborhood. – Michael Spring, Director of the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs. This year the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County celebrates its tenth anniversary.

Parker D. Thomson Ziff Ballet Opera House Interior – photo by Robin Hill

One of the world’s largest performing arts centers, it cuts an imposing yet aesthetically pleasing figure in Downtown Miami along Biscayne Boulevard between N.E. 13th and 14th Streets. The world class venue boasts 570,000 square feet with two purpose-built halls, the John S. and James L. Knight Concert Hall and the Sanford and Dolores Ziff Ballet Opera House. Other components of the Center include Carnival Studio Theater, a flexible black-box space with seating for up to 300; the Parker and Vann Thomson Plaza for the Arts, an outdoor social and performance space linking the two main pavilions across Biscayne Boulevard; Carnival Tower, the restored Art Deco era Sears tower; the Peacock Education Center, a 3500 square-foot workshop and classroom; and artwork commissioned by Miami-Dade Art in Public Places. The Center is located in the Omni area, Miami’s old highend shopping district in the 1940s, whose fortunes rose and fell until the neighborhood became neglected and abandoned. The architectural marvel was the key player in the revitalization of this corridor along Biscayne Boulevard. How Miami-Dade County’s public and private sectors succeeded in imagining, funding, and building such a game-changing performance hall in a city that some considered a cultural wasteland is a story of vision, resourcefulness, and determination that played out for decades until its opening in 2006.


The Beginning, Many Hands Make Light Work
The Center is a catalyst in a depressed economic area. You can plan, but the Center has exceeded our best hope. – Parker D. Thomson, Esq.

In the years leading up to the creation of the Performing Arts Center, Attorney Parker D. Thomson was involved from the outset. The idea of an arts focus for the County was being discussed among community and civic leaders as early as the 1970s. Mayor Stephen P. Clark of Miami- Dade County tapped Thomson as the first chairman of the Arts and Science Council. After two unsuccessful attempts to put an arts center together, the community began to focus its efforts on a project that would lead to today’s Center. Thomson’s involvement with the Center includes his service as the founding chair for the Performing Arts Center Trust (PACT), the non-profit organization that manages the Center.

Although he claims that when he began he had no prior experience as a fundraiser or project manager Thomson built coalitions and shepherded through key components of the project that would lead to its success. He and many others realized that the vision of an arts organization capable of changing the county’s aesthetic landscape was a powerful recruiting tool. That it could also revitalize a dying section of the City of Miami was another magnet for funds and workable partnerships. The ability to attract significant public and private funding while building strong alliances among politicians and community leaders took hold in the mid-80s and stayed the course for over 20 years.

Michael Spring

County Cultural Affairs
Our aspirations were to become one of the newest and most important performing arts venues. – Michael Spring

Michael Spring came to work for the County in 1983 joining the Cultural Affairs department, and subsequently was selected to serve as its director,
when a vacancy occurred. He played a major role in the making of the Center. He points out thathe is proud of the fact that the County was able to “steer the project’s cultural component from the start.” The goal was to create a purpose-built center on par with Lincoln Center in New York and the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Miami-Dade County government was a major contributor to the project and remains involved today. The Commission worked with community leaders, exploring the composition of the building and the location. After an in-depth study, the Commission approved a plan and financing for the Center. The decision was made for the County to own the complex and oversee its construction. Soon thereafter the Performing Arts Center Foundation was established drawing membership from the performing arts organizations that would be the Center’s resident groups. Sherwood M. Weiser was the foundation’s chairman who was tasked with raising funds from the private sector. In 1991 the Performing Arts Center Trust, a non-profit corporation governed by a volunteer board, was formed to oversee planning, design, and construction of the Center as well as its management and operation. The Center became the largest public-private partnership in the history of the County.

Designed From the Inside Out
Knight Concert Hall is an acoustically superb space that has received solid reviews since our opening in October 2006 through today. Musical masters from around the world – from Itzhak Perlman to Joshua Bell – love playing here. – Suzette Espinosa, VP of Communications at the Center.

The Center’s interior spaces were the first design concern for the County and the members of the Performing Arts Center Trust (PACT). The main equirements of a concert hall (acoustics) are different from those of a hall dedicated to opera and ballet (staging and scenery). Essentially, the architectural design would have to incorporate those requirements. After an international search and competition, Argentine -American architect Cesar Pelli of Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects was selected to design the buildings. The architect and design consultants were a part of the team from the beginning of the design phase in 1996. Joshua Dachs of Fisher Dachs Associates was the design consultant for theater planning and the acoustician consultancy was with ARTEC, Inc., led by the late Russell Johnson, architect and acoustical engineer.

M. John Richard was hired as President and CEO of the Arsht Center in 2008. Previously, he was the Executive Vice President and COO at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, where he worked for almost 20 years. Both centers were created in locations that had no previous performing arts center. Yet both were successful thanks to the vision and perseverance of community leaders in a grassroots effort. He has played a major role in broadening and deepening the City of Miami’s reputation as a cultural center by fostering programming that reflects the region’s diversity. He strongly believes that featuring local artists is an essential way to demonstrate Miami’s rich culture. In the future, he would like to expand programming for the public schools, with an eye toward the creation of a performing arts school for students from the community.

M. John Richard was hired as President and CEO of the Arsht Center in 2008. Previously, he was the Executive Vice President and COO at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, where he worked for almost 20 years.

Both centers were created in locations that had no previous performing arts center. Yet both were successful thanks to the vision and perseverance of community leaders in a grassroots effort. He has played a major role in broadening and deepening the City of Miami’s reputation as a cultural center by fostering programming that reflects the region’s diversity. He strongly believes that featuring local artists is an essential way to demonstrate Miami’s rich culture.

In the future, he would like to expand programming for the public schools, with an eye toward the creation of a performing arts school for students from the community.

Cesar Pelli believes that “buildings should be responsible citizens and that the aesthetic qualities of a building should grow from the specific characteristics of each project such as its location, its construction technology, and its purpose.” His concept for the design of the Center envisioned two separate pavilions on either side of Biscayne Boulevard connected by a pedestrian footbridge and outdoor plaza. Both pavilions are made of a series of stepped masses composed of beige Sardinian granite. Large glass and steel curtain walls grace the entries and lobbies; they bring in light and create a sense of lightness and fragility to the buildings. In the larger pavilion is Ziff Hall, designed for opera and ballet seating 2,400 and the black box Carnival Studio Theater, a flexiblespace accommodating up to 300 people. The other, smaller pavilion houses the Knight Concert Hall with 2,200 seats. This hall is designed with an acoustic dome that can be raised or lowered, fabric panels and the two- ton doors of the reverberation chamber can be opened or closed to change the way the sound moves throughout the room. No matter if it is a solo violinist, a 50-piece orchestra or a rock concert, all as Espinosa said, “sound equally magnificent.” In October 1997, Miami-Dade Art in Public Places Trust commissioned several site-specific art installations to enhance the architectural design and add art that reflected the cultural diversity of the County. The works include lobby floors and railings by José Bedia, a large-scale glass tile mural by Cundo Bermudez, outdoor water and seating elements by Anna Valentina Murch, an art installation for the Ziff Ballet Opera House plaza by Gary Moore, and a proscenium curtain and organ scrim designed by Robert Rahway Zakanitch.

January 2006 – An aerial view facing south of the ever-changing Miami skyline withThe Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in the foreground.

Land and Funding
The project never would have gone anywhere if we had to pay for the land. Fundraising for the property would have ended our efforts. – Parker D. Thomson, Esq.

The land on which the Center was eventually built was located in a blighted, high-crime area of Miami that was to become known as the Omni area (Wynwood and Edgewater to the north, Park West and downtown to the south, Overtown to the west, and the Bay on the east). Once a high-end shopping district boasting major department stores in the decades of the late 20s to the 50s, it went into decline. In an effort to revive the area, the Omni International Mall was built in 1977.  It replaced many of the existing business and by the 90s, the mall too went into decline. The mall closed in 2000 and was converted into offices in 2007. Those who worked to make the Center a reality understood that an arts center could serve as an economic engine and a catalyst for change. By distinguishing itself as a city that was seriously committed to fostering an appreciation of the arts, Miami would experience a transformation. The goal was to make Miami a mecca for the arts and employing arts venues as a way to bring positive energy to streets that had been abandoned and ignored. That is precisely what the Center achieved.

Ziff Ballet Opera House Family Fest March Piano – photo by Robin Hill

The site for the Center was chosen by mid-1991 on land that was generously donated by Sears, Roebuck & Company and Knight Ridder. The footprint of the project would encompass two square blocks on either side of Biscayne Boulevard between NE 13th and 14th Streets. The heart of downtown Miami, the site had access to main highways and public transit. Located not too far away were retail, hotel and educational developments. There was also a direct view to Government Cut in the Bay and the Port of Miami.

Construction began in 2001, after being approved by the Miami-Dade County Board of Commissioners. The County was the largest contributor of funds for the project and is the owner of the Center. The construction contract was awarded to Performing Arts Center Builders, a partnership of Odebrecht Construction, Inc., The Haskell Company, and Ellis Don Corporation. The entire cost for the finished project was $473 million.

John S. and James L. Knight Concert Hall – photo by Justin Namon

In the late 1990s the Center received a substantial gift from Ted Arison, the founder and chairman emeritus of Carnival Corporation. To honor his generous $10 million donation, one of the Center’s main theaters was named the Carnival Concert Hall. Another contribution of $10 million was given by Dr. Sanford L. Ziff, the founder of Sunglass Hut International. His donation was also honored with naming rights to the other main theater, the Sanford and Dolores Ziff Ballet Opera House.

Ziff Ballet Opera House – photo by Robn Hill

In 2006, Carnival Corporation gave a $20 million gift, which resulted in the Center being renamed from the Miami Performing Arts Center to the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts. Also in 2006, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation gave $10 million and received naming rights for the concert hall, formerly known as the Carnival Concert Hall.

In 2008 Adrienne Arsht donated $30 million with naming rights for the Center. Ms. Arsht, known for her philanthropy, had a brilliant professional career that included serving as chairman of the Board of TotalBank from 1996 to 2007. During her tenure, the bank grew from four locations to 14 with over $1.4 billion in assets.

The Center is the County’s largest public private-sector partnership, comprised of a $150 million private capital campaign conducted by the Performing Arts Center Foundation and public funding drawn primarily from the County’s Convention Development Tax revenues, as well as the City of Miami Omni Redevelopment District Community Redevelopment Agency.

Parker and Vann Thomson

Cultural Diversity: Miami-Dade’s Calling Card

Our name Miami resonates as a distinctive worldwide brand. Clearly the tapestry of our reputation is the spirit and vitality of our lifestyle. Situated at the entrance to the Americas, the Arsht Center is defining a new era of performing arts center excellence… – John Richard CEO, Arsht Center, interviewed by Forbes magazine, March 2014.

The Grand Opening on October 5-8, 2006 was celebrated with everything from pop stars to dignitaries, to fireworks. In its ten-year life, the Center has brought a new cultural paradigm to Miami, raising the city’s reputation in the world and making it a destination for arts and entertainment that reflects the County’s cultural diversity. From classical music to jazz, Broadway shows to the annual Flamenco Festival, and ballet to aerial acrobatics, the Center is a model for the way arts centers will succeed in the future. Miami is one of the country’s most culturally diverse cities in the nation. Miami prefigures the demographic changes that will one day be true of many areas of the country.

As a cultural magnet, the Center offers a wide range of diverse programming that mirrors the community. Unique programs such as Jazz Roots, a six-part concert series that originated in Miami has expanded to five other cities; Theater Up Close, a showcase of theatrical work features world premieres, local actors, and is home to Miami’s own Zoetic Stage; and Flamenco Festival, the only annual major Flamenco Festival in the country bringing the best performers directly from Spain. In addition to performances by its resident companies, the Florida Grand Opera, Miami City Ballet and New World Symphony, an annual residence by the Cleveland Orchestra is also a part of the Center’s artistic tapestry.

Parker and Vann Thomson Plaza – photo by Robin Hill

Educating youth is another focus of the Center. In May 2010 the launch of Learning Through the Arts program began. It provides live music, theater, and dance experiences to county youth, free of charge via the public school system’s Passport to Culture initiative. The Center is at the heart of arts John S. education in Miami-Dade. Students and teachers participate in behind-the-scenes workshops, master classes, and inclusive activities that enhance learning process through the performing arts. The Center serves 30,000 children annually in its programs.

Town Square Neighborhood Development and the Future
In 2011 the Town Square Neighborhood Development Corporation (“TSNDC”) was formed. It is a is a nonprofit and independent entity that oversees the development of Miami’s emerging Arsht Center neighborhood to build on the Center’s role as a catalyst for change in helping to create Miami’s cultural and entertainment center. TSNDC selected Cesar Pelli, the architect of the Center, to create a master plan for the development of the Arsht Center District. By working with the community TSNDC plans to have an active role in overseeing the development and redevelopment of the district; addressing future Arsht Center expansion needs; and supporting the Arsht Center as a catalyst to improve the livability of the surrounding urban neighborhoods through cultural programming and entrepreneurial business ventures.

The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts is located at 1300 Biscayne Boulevard Miami, Florida, for more information regarding scheduling and tickets, please visit or telephone at 786-468-2000.

I want to congratulate the Arsht Center and its President and CEO John Richard on ten incredible years of bringing arts and culture to Miami-Dade’s millions of residents and visitors. The Arsht Center is one of our nation’s great performing arts centers, and I applaud the Center’s dedicated staff and volunteers for attracting outstanding artists and performances from around the globe to our world-class community. – Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez.


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