TV series to be filmed at Grove convention center
By Risa Polansky
A 20th Century Fox television series is to call Coconut Grove home this month and give new life to the dormant Coconut Grove Convention Center.
Set builders are in town to begin outfitting the center, 2700 S. Bayshore Dr., with sets for "Burn Notice," an action-thriller set in South Florida. Work would begin with the signing of an official contract between the production company and the City of Miami this week, said Robert Parente, director of the Mayor's Office of Film and Cultural Affairs.
The city and the production company are in full agreement, he said, and waiting only for lawyers to OK the contract.
With Fox will come a cast and crew of about 120, Sharon Gless, star of 1980s drama "Cagney & Lacey." Fox will lease the long-empty convention center for $6,000 to $7,000 a month — a "nominal rent" negotiated as "a way to get them down here" — until mid-September, Mr. Parente said.
The crew will shoot on location around Miami, he said. So "we're not charging normal rates because the building is in as-is condition and because we wanted to incentivize Fox to shoot in Miami rather than Los Angeles."
City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff voiced discomfort with the arrangement, fearing the project could prolong the life of the convention center, which he thinks should be torn down to make way for green space and a community center.
"What it means in the City of Miami is that every time you say the word "temporary,' people tend to morph it into "permanent,'" he said. "I'd like to see it merely as a stopgap measure."
The master plan for the Coconut Grove waterfront calls for demolition of the center. A firm commissioned by the city to design a waterfront makeover will host an open house for community members, then present its master plan to the waterfront advisory board April 10.
"I think the city's position is this: Until it's done, they want to see some use" of the convention center, Mr. Sarnoff said.
Coconut Grove merchants agree.
"Are we better off with an empty convention center, or are we better off with 120 people who are going to work, eat and sleep in Coconut Grove?" Sylvano Bignon, owner of Greenstreet Café, 3468 Main Highway, said at a meeting of the Coconut Grove Business Improvement Committee last week. "There are days we don't have 30 people in Coconut Grove — what do we have to lose?"
Mr. Parente also sees the deal as "a great economic boost to the Grove" and the city, he said.
Miami is home to one sound stage, Greenwich Studios, 12100 NE 16th Ave., and, "when they're booked, there's no place else to house these things," Mr. Parente said, adding that a lack of available facilities here led producers of "CSI: Miami" to work in Los Angeles.
"We're losing a lot of work and a lot of publicity," Mr. Parente said. "We'd really love to keep more production here in South Florida."
A second season of "Burn Notice" could be filmed here pending the outlook for the convention center, Mr. Parente said.