Curtain May Rise On Coconut Grove Playhouse Miniseason In January
Written by Eric Kalis on May 25, 2006
By Eric Kalis
The directors of the Coconut Grove Playhouse are working closely with Miami-Dade County to rescue the theater from a $4 million debt in time for a mini-season in January.
Michael Spring, director of the Department of Cultural Affairs, said county officials are formulating ways to revive the currently shuttered playhouse. The 80-year-old theater’s ongoing financial struggles made it impossible to afford insurance, resulting in an April temporary shutdown. Almost all the staff was discharged at season’s end and longtime artistic director Arnold Mittelman resigned May 16.
Miami-Dade County, Mr. Spring said, is responsible for $20 million in bonds intended for physical improvements to the playhouse once it shows signs of economic vitality. The theater’s historic status limits exterior renovation options.
"The steps the county is taking to help the playhouse are: assessing the current situation to develop a plan to address the debt, developing a short-term plan for the upcoming season and taking a long-term look beyond next season," Mr. Spring said. "This is to ensure it reopens in a bigger, better way."
Shelly Spivack, chairperson of the theater’s board of directors, said the staff is still figuring out how the playhouse ended up in such financial disarray. The board hired Lewis Freeman, a Miami forensic attorney, to investigate the theater’s finances, but he resigned two days after accepting the job. Ms. Spivack said the board will try to replace Freeman quickly.
"There are a myriad of reasons [for the debt]," Ms. Spivack said. "It got to the point where we could not deal with it anymore. The [next] forensic auditor will try to find out what we need to do."
Ms. Spivack said at the county’s May 17 Intergovernmental Recreation and Cultural Affairs Committee meeting that the board intends to restructure both the business model and employee hierarchy.
"We are taking a two-pronged approach to recovery," Ms. Spivack said. "The executive director will run the operations side of the playhouse, and we will look to bring in an interim director to help reorganize our structure from top to bottom."
One obstacle for the board members Ms. Spivack said, is balancing their regular jobs with the daily burden of saving the playhouse.
"We need goals and objectives to understand what is out there," she said. "This is not a full-time job for anybody; it requires professional help."
While the theater’s financial woes are serious, Mr. Spring said, county officials feel a January re-opening is possible.
"This is a salvageable situation," he said. "The commitment of the board gives me confidence. They have some of the best civic volunteers who are dedicated to getting back to a healthy state."