Funding crisis averted, work continues on Miami science museum

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Construction on a 500,000-gallon, martini glass-shaped tank populated by hammerhead sharks to be featured in the the Living Core Aquarium attraction.
Construction on a 500,000-gallon, martini glass-shaped tank populated by hammerhead sharks to be featured in the the Living Core Aquarium attraction. Photo Credit: Robert Silk

On a hot day in March, a construction crew of approximately 150 was working on the expansive Frost Museum of Science site along Biscayne Boulevard in downtown Miami.

“The main focus is getting it done right,” marketing manager Joseph Quinones said of the oft-delayed project.

The 250,000-square-foot center, to be formally called the Patricia and Philip Frost Museum of Science, has been wrought with funding difficulties since construction began in 2012. Once completed, however, it will be a major addition to downtown Miami’s burgeoning cultural tourism scene.

The Frost Museum will sit on the edge of Biscayne Bay, adjacent to the popular Perez Art Museum Miami, which opened in 2013. In addition, the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, a facility featuring a concert hall and a separate ballet/opera house that opened in 2006, sits just down Biscayne Boulevard from the Frost.

“I think what is exciting about where we are is that people can make a day out of downtown Miami,” Quinones said. 

Though he’s paid to make such proclamations, Quinones’ point has plenty of merit.

The $305 million project is more than just your everyday science museum. Rather, the Frost is slated to fill four interconnected buildings, which together will house an aquarium; a planetarium; the five-story Exploration Center, offering immersive exhibits; and the Innovation Center, where workshops will be led, emerging technology will be showcased and pairs of inventors-in-residence will rotate in and out each year.

Indeed, the Frost’s is considered so significant to Miami’s cultural and economic landscape that on April 5 it won a $49 million bailout from the Miami-Dade County Commission. Though commissioners expressed their exasperation with the delays and with the center’s fundraising shortfalls, they passed the bailout 12-1. 

“We can’t just sit back and watch it fail,” county mayor Carlos Gimenez said before the vote, according to the Miami Herald. “We owe this museum to the future generations of Miamians.”

Museums officials say the county bailout will enable them to secure the additional private financing needed to finish the center this year.

When it does open, the marquee Frost Museum attraction for many is likely to be the Living Core Aquarium. It will actually feature more than 30 tanks that highlight ecosystems, including coral reefs, the Everglades and Florida’s sandy shores. Its showcase will be a 500,000-gallon martini glass-shaped tank populated by hammerhead sharks that will be viewable from three levels, including from a rooftop expanse complete with an aviary and views of Biscayne Bay.

The planetarium will house 250 seats below a digital dome lit up by a laser projection system.

A permanent exhibit that is likely to be popular will be “Feathers to the Stars,” a history of flight that will take visitors from the age of dinosaurs and prehistoric birds to 21st century aircraft and spacecraft.  Meanwhile, the indoor/outdoor River of Grass exhibit will include an immersive area in which visitors will gain a sense of what the Everglades feels like both during the day and at night.

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