The future plans for the Coconut Grove Playhouse, a theater built in the 1920s that was center stage to a plethora of performances over the years, has become a political topic.
City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, along with many advocates fighting for its conservation, want to restore the entire playhouse that has been unused since 2006. But Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez has other plans. He proposed and is spearheading the plan to restore only the front of the theater and demolish the rest, building a modern new theater in its place. Gimenez's plan was approved in a vote, but Suarez has vetoed the plan. This fight for the theater's future may now end up in court. Mayor Suarez joined Sundial to talk about what should happen to the historic Coconut Grove site.
This has been edited lightly for clarity.
WLRN: What's your plan (for the Coconut Grove Playhouse)? What do you envision should happen?
SUAREZ: My plan is simple. My plan is that we need to exhaust all remedies before we even consider demolishing a historic property. And we're not anywhere near that. We need to start right away working on the things that we do agree on, which by the way could have been done by now. The county has been the tenant of this property for five and half years without doing one thing. The city of Miami also waived $3 million in code enforcement means and fines against the property. The City of Miami has done a tremendous amount to try to rescue this property. And the county, unfortunately, rather than wanting to compromise and figure out a way that we restore the building...they can continue to do what they're doing now.
Instead of making this a 66% commercial mall and 20% small theater, why don't we come together to restore the theater (as a whole), create an annex and do something that's really going to leave a lasting legacy for our children and preserve one of our few historic properties on the National Historic Register in our inventory in the city?
Some people want to see the full restoration, but do you think that ... it is [financially] viable to have that full theater? We have a lot of options in South Florida right now.
We do have a lot of options. I would tell you take the word of Andy Garcia (world renowned actor). He will cite theaters across the United States that are in a 700 and above category. And frankly, many people who have testified have said that a 300 seater may not be economically viable because it's too small. There is, I think, a big debate about what is the appropriate size whether it should be smaller or larger. I think what's great is that the envelope of the property is large enough to accommodate both. You can accommodate a small annex theater of 200 seats and you can fully restore the playhouse that's 700 seats. What you can't do is have a mega mall. You can't have more commercial space and do it all. Obviously, that's just not possible. There's limitations to the size of the property. And frankly the Grove doesn't really need that...And frankly what government needs to do is come together, compromise and get the playhouse restored and fixed.
What happens next, and do you have any planned conversations with (County) Mayor Gimenez?
I sent a letter yesterday urging the mayor not to litigate, urging the mayor to sit down. I am open, ready, willing and able at any time to sit down with him and discuss a way forward. But, it has to be an honest conversation. He has to stop telling the public that he has a fully funded plan, when what he has is a partially funded plan that requires more money from the city than from the county. That's number one. Number two, we've got to figure out what are they going to put in operationally as a subsidy. They're already getting $450,000 from the city on day one.
What is the county going to do if this has an operational deficit, how are they going to to solve that? Let's get started on the things that we agree with. We built a parking garage next to City Hall. It started after I became mayor. I've only been mayor for a year and a half and that parking garage is almost complete. Let's get that done. That's something that the Grove needs that all the business owners in the Grove deserve.
Note: We've reached out to Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and he will be joining our program tomorrow, Thursday May 30. We will link the story with that conversation after the interview.