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The downtown Miami skyline is dotted with cranes. New developments are popping up everywhere. But there’s one notable exception.
Across from the American Airlines Arena and next door to the Freedom Tower is a very valuable plot of land that has been the source of a long legal battle that tax dollars are tied into because of one wealthy man’s vision of what it could be.
Miami-Dade College owns the parking lot that it says was valued three years ago at $125 million.
Gary Nader has one of Miami’s most impressive art collections with works from artists like Botero, Matisse and Picasso.
The Botero sculptures outside clearly mark his Wynwood gallery. But the gallery owner doesn’t have a Latin American museum to display his art.
He says he’s invested four million dollars of his money in an effort to change that. He had an architect come up with a plan.
“It’s a super avant garde building,” Nader told us. “It would be a project that would be visited by everybody who comes to this city without a doubt.”
For years, Nader has had his sights set on building his museum along with a condo tower and retail shops where the parking lot is now.
“If you ask me why there, it’s a prominent space and a collection like this deserves a prominent space,” Nader said.
He put in an unsolicited bid to develop the land. Miami Dade College then opened up a bidding process.
Months later in late 2016 Miami Dade College rejected Nader’s plan.
The college also rejected a competing proposal that had a smaller art gallery. That one was submitted by Jose Perez, the man whose name is already on a museum down the street.
The two art titans clashed. Ultimately, the college decided not to build anything on the land.
The college told us, the lot “continues serving as an important parking facility”.
Since then, Nader and Miami Dade College have been doing battle over if the college has given Nader all of the public records he requested related to the bidding process.
“I’m going to know the truth and if heads have to roll, heads will have to roll,” Nader told us.
The latest battle in court last month was over who has to pay the 1.7 million dollars in legal fees that have already been billed.
The college calls Nader’s legal actions frivolous. The Miami Dade College attorney told Judge Thomas Rebull, “Here we are two years later and the college has been forced to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in unnecessary legal fees—public funds that should have been used for educational purposes—your tax dollars and mine.”
Rebull ruled in favor of the college saying it didn’t violate the public records law by failing to hand over material in a timely manner, but the court told Miami Dade to make 100 percent sure Nader gets every public record he requested.
Our look into this issue uncovered an email written by the college’s chief financial officer the day after a community meeting about the proposed project.
At the meeting Nader’s supporters wore matching tee-shirts. In the email, EH Levering wrote, (the) “Nader group brought about 60 paid supporters in t-shirts… they looked like Black Lives Matter protestors and it was a bit scary for a while.” Nader’s minority partner is Overtown community activist Leroy Jones. He told us he considered the e-mail offensive.
“Nobody look scary to me,” Jones said. “Or acted if they were trying to cause any harm or be any harm to anybody. I don’t know—was he saying that the people who were of color looked scary.”
The college wouldn’t comment on the email that came out. The college also spent more of your tax dollars hiring the former U.S Attorney to see if any rules were broken in the bidding competition. The investigation didn’t find any.
The cost for the legal battle is continuing to rise as Nader plans to appeal. The college told us Nader should ultimately foot the bill.
Meantime, Nader’s art continues to hang in his gallery. His hope for a museum is still alive.
“This is a vision that would greatly benefit this community” Nader said.