Olympia Theater/Miami, FL

John Eberson atmospheric

Daily Business Review
October 07, 2010

Nonprofit ready to manage Gusman Center
Erik Bojnansky

Gusman Center
The Miami Parking Authority agreed to turn management of the Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts over to a nonprofit organization run by the former president of the Hialeah City Council

The facility’s management is to be handed over to a nonprofit created by Herman Echevarria by Nov. 30. The deal, approved by the MPA’s board of directors Wednesday, still has to be approved by the Miami City Commission. If the commission rejects the agreement, Gusman management will revert back to the parking authority.

Built in 1926, the 1,567-seat theater at 174 E. Flagler St. was originally known as the Paramount Movie House. The facility was donated to the city of Miami in 1975 by Maurice Gusman with the stipulation that it be managed by the parking authority. The agency, also known as the Department of Off-Street Parking, was then chaired by fellow philanthropist and businessman Mitchell Wolfson.

Since the 1950s, the parking authority has operated independently of City Hall. Mayor Tomas Regalado hopes to change that with a Nov. 2 referendum where Miami voters will be asked to allow the city to take over the parking authority’s facilities and assets.

Facing a $100 million deficit, the Miami City Commission also ended its $478,036 subsidy of Gusman’s $1.4 million budget. Under the city’s charter, the parking authority can’t directly use any of the $21.3 million it receives from parking revenue to operate the theater.

Echevarria, also chief executive officer of the Miami advertising firm BVK/Meka, said he formed a nonprofit 501c3 corporation to be made up of 100 trustees to raise funds for the theater called Olympia Center Inc. To be a trustee, one would have to sign a contract agreeing to donate $10,000 a year to the theater for five years, Echevarria said Wednesday.

"If anyone wants to play they got to pay," he said.

The first check in the account, he said, "will be mine."

Olympia Center Inc. will also weigh selling naming rights for the theater to raise additional revenue, Echevarria said.

"My wife thinks I am crazy for doing this," said Echevarria, who previously raised money for the Beacon Council’s Miami-Dade Marketing Initiative. "Personally, I have the time to take on this new venture, which I am doing with a passion, and I encourage everyone to join this."

Should Olympia Center Inc. "implode," management of the theater would revert to the parking authority, as stipulated by Gusman’s deed, said Art Noriega, the MPA’s CEO.

Echevarria’s efforts have already gained support from Regalado and City Commission Chairman Marc Sarnoff.

Noriega said that Echevarria’s plan is "our best and probably only option."

"I think Herman has the passion and resources to get this done," Noriega said.

Margaret Lake will continue as director of the Gusman, but less clear is the future of the volunteer support group Friends of Gusman. Board members Marlon Hill and Stephen Nostrand want the nonprofit to continue to be involved with the Gusman. However, Noriega said that while the group has provided the theater with good programming ideas and energy, "financially they have never been able to step up to the plate."

Parking authority chairwoman Jami Reyes said Wednesday that it was "rainbows and lollipops" for the board to discuss the Friends of Gusman’s future since that decision will be up to Olympia Center Inc. and "I am OK with that."

"This building is in trouble," Reyes said. "I certainly am not going to get in [Echevarria's] way."

Gusman director Lake thinks there will be room for Friends of Gusman. "I see both entities working together," she said

Echevarria said he welcomes Friends of Gusman, but to be a trustee, one has to pay up — no exceptions.

"It doesn’t matter who it is," he said. "That is said from Day One."

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