State sets conditions for future of Coconut Grove Playhouse
By Paola Iuspa
The Florida Department of State, acting as landlord, will keep the Coconut Grove Playhouse where it is but wants a new owner for it and an adjacent parking lot and bicycle shop, said Rep. Manuel Prieguez of Miami.
After meeting Tuesday with Gov. Jeb Bush's cabinet, Mr. Prieguez said the deal is contingent on conditions that include a meeting with the playhouse board of trustees. The board needs to release the state from liabilities related to the 1926 building's maintenance - projected at $9 million.
Aware of state budget shortfalls, the playhouse board has already proposed that measure.
A 1999 accord giving the playhouse control over use and development of a parking lot and bicycle shop on its north side also must be repealed, Mr. Prieguez said.
If the board OKs the conditions, the department would create a four-member committee to recommend a landlord for the 2.5-acre parcel. Ultimately, the Florida Cabinet would decide whether the City of Miami or a nonprofit group should take control of the theater and nearby sites.
Rep. Prieguez, who said state officials favor having the city control the complex, said he is waiting to receive a letter of interest that city administrators have drafted.
Commissioners have yet to approve the letter, but a draft completed Monday also calls for the city to become the landlord.
In the letter, the city vows to keep the playhouse as a tenant, but proposes creating a committee to recommend revenue-producing projects for the lot and shop. City Manager Carlos Gimenez said the group would have a year to suggest enhancements to the playhouse and boost the commercial business district.
Redevelopment would need to increase playhouse revenues, projected to decrease $20,000 a year from loss of the parking business and $500,000 it had been receiving yearly from the state, according to the letter. Construction at the site should begin within five years from the time the city takes possession.
The proposal outlined in the letter favors retaining Arnold Mittleman as the producing artistic director and the playhouse's board of trustees, chaired by Miami-Dade Commissioner Gwen Margolis.
The theater's board had informed the city in November that it was holding talks with officials from Florida International University and the universities of Florida and Miami about using the site for educational and cultural events. Such a partnership is not addressed in the city's letter.
Arthur Noriega, executive director of the Miami Parking Authority, said playhouse officials asked him earlier this year to propose a revenue-producing parking garage on the site but the idea is on hold.
"In light of some discussions between the city and the playhouse, we decided to step back," he said.
He said the authority is going to let the city negotiate with the playhouse. If things don't work out between them, Mr. Noriega said, the authority would re-start talks with the venue's board.
"We are desperate to do something in that part of the Grove for the merchants," he said, citing a need for parking by patrons shopping along Commodore Plaza.