Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez said the county is supporting the long-awaited African-American museum at Virginia Key – starting with himself.

Suarez, whose District 7 includes the key, on Friday said Ultra Music Festival's declining to bring back the electronic dance music concert to Virginia Key, should not hinder the building of the Historic Virginia Key Beach Park Museum. He calls the proposed 15-year project a major priority.

"I have already allocated $125,000 in my current budget and will allocate another $125,000 in the 2019-20 budget for operations during construction," Suarez said. "That is more than enough to operate during the construction phase."

Calling it the single-most important arts project in the county that has not been funded, he said financial support is available through the Department of Cultural Affairs. Part of Ultra Music Festival's fee to use city facilities was seen as a long-term way to fund the African-American museum. But the music festival's acrimonious relationship with the city of Miami and its residents pushed Ultra to take its show on the road. Ultra Music Festival said Wednesday it was abandoning the location.

"The [county] mayor refused to put funds in the budget for the museum last year but that is going to change,"Suarez said.

The music festival’s lawyer preempted a discussion item that was put on Thursday’s Miami Commission agenda, to revoke its rental agreement to use facilities on the key off the Rickenbacker Causeway. Ultra had already paid its $2 million fee to city before calling it quits. About half of those funds were delivered to the Virginia Key Beach Park Trust, the stewards of the museum.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said he had already delivered a $1 million check to the Trust, drawn up an operating budget for the museum at the formerly Blacks-only beach and was ready to break ground. 

When Ultra delivered a letter Wednesday that said it was taking the 21-year-old festival away from the city of Miami, it meant the anticipated revenue stream that Miami-Dade County said is required before the museum can be built was gone. A General Obligation Bond and other funds have been earmarked to cover the $22-million estimate to construct the museum. 

“I was ready to bring an operating budget to the county on Friday,” Miami Mayor Suarez said. He said the city still plans to support the museum, which he said is a legacy project, especially for the Black community. It should have been done already.

Guy Forchion, executive director of Virginia Key Beach Park Trust on Thursday said he is reviewing the ramifications of the Ultra Music Festival's withdrawal from the agreement to return to Virginia Key in 2020.  

“I can say that the Trust is appreciative of the resources that were generated from the 2019 Music Festival for the Trust's Civil Rights Museum Project but is turning its attention to gaining City's approval of the Trust's General Obligation Bond (GOB) resolution set for Mid-June around June 13,” said Forchion in a statement.

“The approval of the Trust's resolution would release public funds held by Miami Dade County for the construction of the Civil Rights Museum and various park improvements for Historic Virginia Key Beach Park.  We will continue to tell the rich cultural history of Historic Virginia Key Beach Park and fulfill the public's mandate to build the Civil Rights Museum.  Completion of the Historic Beach Park master plan is at the center of our mission.”

The museum was first proposed since 2005 when designs and site plans were ordered. Since, new site plans have been created. But the county's requirement of proof of operating funds kept the project stalled.

David Winker, an attorney who sued the city of Miami concerning the agreement with Ultra, said he learned a lot about Ultra after fighting with it – and what he found out wasn’t bad. He hopes Ultra will find a new home soon.

 “… It is also a terrible result for the African American Museum at Historic Virginia Key Beach Park, which should have been opened a long time ago and is in desperate need of the funding ULTRA was providing as part of its arrangement with the City,” he said in a statement.

Miami City Manager Emilio T. Gonzalez had previously said, Ultra’s presence provided the means to fund an operating budget for the Historic Virginia Key Beach Park Museum, as it is dubbed. 

 “Once this revenue stream is secured, it is up to Miami-Dade County to follow through with its obligation to our African-American community and go forward with its promise to fund the construction of this very needed museum,” Gonzalez said. 


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