Within the local art community itself, many prominent figures have been less than zealous in rushing to MAM’s defense. Über-collector Marty Margulies, a longtime critic of the museum’s somewhat meager art holdings, warned that taxpayers would eventually foot far more than they were being told: half of the projected $200 million total. As for MAM’s other half of that $200 million, he further doubted whether all of its $45 million in private pledges would actually pan out in the face of the lingering recession.

Twisting the knife, Margulies then announced his own donation of $5 million to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art—which he contrasted as a “quality” institution. This on the heels of the reported departure of MAM trustee Ella Fontanals-Cisneros and her own $5 million pledge. It’s also telling that fellow marquee collectors Rosa and Carlos de la Cruz and Mera and Don Rubell—though not openly hostile—have yet to break out their checkbooks, preferring instead to concentrate on their own private museums.

After years of fundraising, it’s hard to imagine there’s still an untapped pool of wealthy philanthropists. Accordingly, I tell Collins that many folks remain dubious of MAM and Museum Park ever being built. Which brings us back to Collins staring across his desk at me, dumbfounded, asking about heroin use.

An artist’s rendering of the proposed Miami Art Museum at Museum Park, designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron

I have extraordinary confidence in this project or I wouldn’t have given up a job I love to move to this city,” Collins bristles. Though he’s fully confident in the museum’s ongoing capital campaign, he says the money is already there to open the front door in 2013. Of the projected $200 million total, the building and park construction itself costs $131 million. Add the county’s already earmarked $100 million in bond money to MAM’s previously raised $45 million, and the museum is over its needed amount. The outstanding sum, Collins says, goes toward operating funds and the endowment.

That breakdown certainly won’t quiet skeptics such as Margulies, who’ve wondered just what art will actually fill this brand-new building. But Collins says that even people who never plan to set foot inside the museum have good reason to cheer it on. He points to his architectural sketch’s lush canopy of encircling greenery: “It’s a place where people can be comfortable to just be. Whether you come to the exhibitions or not, it’s a public park with incredible views of the bay and beyond.”

The dreamy musings are all gone now. Collins leans forward, speaking forcefully: “We’re the only major city in the United States that doesn’t have a major art museum. That’s the short version of it. And this city deserves one. It needs one, especially given the extent to which the economy rests on tourism.

TOP: Thomas Collins with Tomás Saraceno’s 2008 artwork Galaxies Forming Along Filaments, Like Droplets Along the Strands of a Spider’s Web

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