Sports, entertainment are enormous economic engines

Oct 9, 2012 3:00 AM

When the first hints of fall descend upon the tropics, natives stir from their lethargy. 

No longer consumed by garish, thunderstorm-proof baseball parks, or soggy fairways and soggier bunkers, fans of games begin to trickle into TSFKAJR (The Stadium Formerly Known As Joe Robbie), the American Airlines Arena and the BB&T (formerly Bank Atlantic) Center. In equally strong numbers arts patrons flock to theater, music and arts offerings across the southern tier. Sports and entertainment are enormous economic engines that attract natives and tourists alike.

Until the mid-80’s south (and most of) Florida was virtually a cultural wasteland. As the professional sports teams emerged, so did the arts and entertainment. In 25 years institutions that justify the term major international city have grown. 

Natives no longer travel to New York City, Philadelphia or Chicago to enjoy great theater or hear symphonies or experience fine art. Now, it’s not uncommon for thousands to join art walks among galleries situated along previously blighted neighborhoods.

The live, professional theater thrives in South Florida. Broadway road shows now fill the magnificent Adrianne Arsht Center in downtown Miami, the Broward Center for Performing Arts, and Kravitz Center in West Palm Beach. Upcoming shows include The Book of Mormon, Lion King, Rock of Ages, and Million Dollar Quartet. 

These facilities also host international classical music stars, ballet and modern dancers, jazz and gifted solo artists. The Florida Grand Opera remains the patriarch of all local arts, and the 25-year-old Miami City Ballet commands appearances in Paris, the Kennedy Center and New York with rave reviews.

Very strong local professional theater complements the touring shows. With the old war horse Coconut Grove Theater in total disrepair, the serious legitimate stage is headed by cutting edge Gables Stage at the majestic Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables.

Up the street the 25-year-old Actor’s Playhouse presents grandiose musicals with all the sets and costuming. The two professional companies keep local/Florida-based Actors Equity members employed.

The New Theater, the Naked Theater and several others fill in the legitimate theater niches providing very edgy English and Hispanic theater. In Fort Lauderdale the Mosaic, Stage Door and Rising Action theaters are thriving; in Palm Beach the Caldwell Theater, Dramaworks and Maltz Jupiter troops are well supported by locals and snowbirds alike.

The theater departments at FIU, FAU, Lynn, Miami Dade, Nova and University of Miami provide a steady supply of talent for the working theaters not to mention top level performances on their own. 

For years The Florida Philharmonic was the big boy orchestra in Florida. Unfortunately, it folded in 2003 due to money woes, leaving a major void. Carnival Cruise Lines moguls, the Arison Family funded the extraordinary New World symphony under artistic director Michael Tilson Thomas – a showcase for elite young musicians. With its own Frank Gehry designed building on Miami Beach the orchestra produces an annual six-month series season.

In 2006 the state of the art, 570,000 square foot, Cesar Pelli designed, Adrianne Arsht Center with Opera and Symphony halls debuted in downtown Miami. In conjunction with the University of Miami, Arsht management booked the internationally acclaimed Cleveland Orchestra – convincing snow bound timpanists and harpsichordists to spend five weeks every winter in paradise.

With an annual four concert series bookending copious seminars with high school and college students, the Cleveland residency is anticipated every year.

In the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s the visual arts scene was a loose knit group of private collectors like Martin Margulies and the De La Cruz family. The Miami Art Museum downtown displayed mainly works from private collections and had no significant permanent collection – but it did enjoy a loyal supportive membership. 

 Similarly the hodge podge Miami Science Museum survived in spite of a difficult location on the campus of Villa Vizcaya with the accompanying award winning Space Transit Planetarium.

The two institutions now move into the Museum Park just down the street from the American Airlines Arena and Arsht Center. The stunning buildings cost a combined total of a half billion dollars. Opening in 2013-14, the Park will provide highly visible, easily accessible visual arts and sciences with permanent collections and displays. 

Developer Jorge Perez (Reliant Group) donated a hefty piece of his private (largely Latin) art collection to the new facility and it will be known as the Jorge Perez Art Museum Miami. 

The Fort Lauderdale Museum of Discovery and Science, largely endowed by the Huizenga family, is an excellent modern building with creative interactive exhibits and an IMAX theater. The Norton Museum of Art, with the area’s only accomplished permanent collection in Palm Beach is a national treasure.

Add in the Miami Book Fair in November, world class ART BASEL each December, the Food Network’s signature Wine and Food Festival in February, Miami Film Festival in March sprinkled amidst the South Beach glitz plus the superb Coral Gables, Las Olas and Worth Avenue restaurants plus television and film productions ongoing and voila. SoFlo is a bonafide international cultural crossroads – with a flair!

Odds ’n Ends

Sun Sentinel featured a proposal for an indoor, winter themed entertainment complex (skiing, snowboarding etc) in Fort Lauderdale. Developers claim an estimated $300 million build out. Another rumor suggests this boondoggle might be combined with a casino.

Miami Herald columnist, Fred Grimm opined that the new electronic roulette games sprouting at the local racinos were a borderline interpretation of the state’s law banning table games. The racino managers claim the unmanned mechanically operated wheels are nothing more than a slot machine.

Baird Thompson and William Hutchinson bring a combined 80 years of gaming marketing and administration experience to Gaming Today. Contact them at [email protected]

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