Frost Museum Benefactors Delayed Payment Before Board Overhaul

Frost Museum Benefactors Delayed Payment Before Board Overhaul

The top private donors to the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science in Miami delayed a scheduled payment to the museum pending the ouster of its forty-member board, the Miami Herald reports.

The $1 million payment from Patricia and Phillip Frost — part of a $35 million naming gift announced in 2011 to fund construction of the museum's new four-acre complex in Miami's Museum Park — was delayed five weeks while the museum faced a cash crisis after lenders balked at providing the $105 million needed to finish the $325 million project. In a February 9 letter to museum administrators, the Frosts said the $1 million payment would not have made a dent in the shortfall; nevertheless, the incident helps illustrate how the Frosts used financial leverage to impose their will on the project, the Miami Herald reports. The following day, the museum replaced its forty-member board in exchange for an $11 million loan from the Frosts to keep construction crews on the job through April. As part of the short-term package to plug a $13 million hole in the construction budget, the Frosts also agreed to advance another $1.3 million due March 31.

The project was backed by $165 million from Miami-Dade County in borrowed funds tied to property taxes, of which more than $158 million has been paid. To make up for a shortfall in private donations, Miami mayor Carlos Gimenez now is working to muster support for another loan of $45 million borrowed from hotel taxes.

The new museum board includes Patricia Frost, the Frosts' business associate Richard Pfenniger, and Cesar L. Alvarez, a Miami lawyer chosen by the Frosts to chair the board. While the museum's press release announcing the overhaul of the board describes the Frosts as "its primary pledged donors," to date the couple have paid less than $10 million of their total pledge of $45 million, the Herald reports. The paper also reports that according to the February 9 letter, the paperwork for a $10 million pledge announced last spring for the museum's planetarium was not signed until that day, and no payment schedule was mentioned. That would make the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which has fulfilled a $10 million pledge made in 2012, the lead donor to the project.

No former board member has publicly criticized the Frosts. Jack Falk, a lawyer and trustee for the Batchelor Foundation, which donated $7.5 million to the project in 2014 but lost its seat on the board, referred to the couple and other directors as "good people trying to accomplish something good," adding that "[a]ny pettiness and misunderstandings need to be swept aside....Whatever is happening they are small things in relation to the overall goal that needs to be achieved."

Douglas Hanks. "Before Taking Over, Frosts Held Money From Troubled Science Museum." Miami Herald 02/23/2016.