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Front Page » Opinion » How realistic is the dialogue in the Grove Playhouse drama?

How realistic is the dialogue in the Grove Playhouse drama?

Written by on March 18, 2015
How realistic is the dialogue in the Grove Playhouse drama?

The best theater in Miami is at Coconut Grove Playhouse. Imagine how much better it could be if the playhouse were actually open.

The vacant site tops the bill of a drama for control between tiny, high-quality GableStage and the chairman of the county’s largest arts hub, Mike Eidson of the Arsht Center.

Spearheading the GableStage cause is Michael Spring, county arts chief and a key advisor to Mayor Carlos Gimenez. Carrying the spear for Mr. Eidson is Xavier Suarez, the district’s county commissioner and a potential mayoral contender against Mr. Gimenez.

It’s a great cast: all stars and no bit players, all heroes and no villains.

Does one side lose, or can protagonists craft a happy ending where everyone – including theatergoers and taxpayers – wins?

The script is being written right now.

Last week a county committee hearing packed by vocal supporters of Joe Adler, the artistic genius behind GableStage, booked the next act for a full commission meeting.

The commission must decide whether to let Mr. Adler’s team alone take over a rebuilt Coconut Grove Playhouse with a new 300-seat theater to replace what was once a 1,500-seat regional theater or to add to the playbill a 750-seat theater controlled by a foundation that Mr. Eidson is forming.

The old playhouse crumbled in 2006 under the weight of $4 million debt. The structure was built on sand – the theater was made of beach sand, and salt had corroded the supports to the point that even before it fell vacant it was decaying.

The county named star architects Arquitectonica to consult on a new structure. Mr. Spring picked Mr. Adler to bring his acclaimed theater to a larger 300-seat venue. And Mr. Eidson, looking for theater with general appeal, quietly lobbied to get 750 seats and stated that actor “Kevin Spacey said he wants to help us.”

It’s a bit like Florida International University’s drive to take over the lease of the Youth Fair: a county-named incumbent is battling a powerful team that says it has a better idea. Again, no bad guys but an apparent collision course.

FIU is an player in the playhouse drama, too: it shares official control with the county under a lease from the state. Mr. Adler and GableStage had gotten their nod to run the theater before Mr. Eidson made public his own idea.

Dividing the space as Mr. Eidson suggests is like cutting a baby in half, but it could actually work. That would require coordinating schedules of two theaters, parking and building use.

More important, it would involve two groups producing excellent but very different shows. Divergence would be assured by the visions of the operators-to-be, as Mr. Adler focuses on the serious works he has produced for years and Mr. Eidson looks for a market with far broader appeal.

The county has $20 million to build a theater for GableStage and Mr. Eidson says he’ll create a foundation and raise $35 million to $40 million for the other stage. We can count on the county money. Mr. Eidson’s foundation is a nice scenario, but we’ve seen many arts groups promise big and come up short – and this foundation isn’t yet tangible.

Far more important than construction funds is operating cash. Miami keeps building great structures and then scratching to keep them open.

Theaters aren’t cash cows. They can sell out yet lose money. Mr. Adler has been raising operating money on a much smaller scale, and Mr. Eidson’s group doesn’t yet function to raise any operating funds.

Mr. Eidson has brought a lot to the table: Kevin Spacey is a big name, and $35 million to $40 million is a lot of money.

But we have only one man’s word that either Mr. Spacey or the money will materialize. No matter how confident Mr. Eidson is, we haven’t heard word one from Mr. Spacey about Coconut Grove or seen dollar one of those millions.

Appeals to the commission aren’t always reliable. Remember another big name, Jeffrey Loria, who told commissioners in 2009 that the Florida Marlins were losing their shirts and needed a county-funded stadium to survive when they actually were making the biggest profits in baseball.

We’re not demoting these participants to Mr. Loria’s league, but the issue is the same: Mr. Loria never opened his books and commissioners took him at his word.

We trust all involved in the playhouse drama, but let’s see both GableStage and the big-theater side show that they have enough money not only to open a theater but to run it a long, long time without turning to the county for multi-million-dollar subsidies like the Arsht Center, whose board Mr. Eidson heads, has gotten every year despite pledges that it would never need county aid. The Arsht, though, isn’t acting in the Grove theater drama: that’s Mr. Eidson’s show.

Two theaters could revitalize the Grove. They’d have broader economic and cultural impacts, too. And they’d end years of waiting for a reopened playhouse in some form – any form.

Nothing is wrong – and a whole lot is right – with two economically sound operators producing differing high-quality programs on Main Highway. Operators should have been chosen in open competition, but probably few quality candidates exist.

Mr. Eidson says that neither constructing nor operating a 750-seat playhouse would cost taxpayers a penny. We’d like proof, just as we’d like to see Mr. Spacey step on stage, contract in hand, and tell us that his dream career involves a new Coconut Grove theater. We’d also like to see how GableStage will fund its theater in years ahead.

All this drama, and more, is coming soon to a commission dais near you. We expect theater supporters to fill a lot of seats. We look for a lot more evidence than just dialogue to support the protagonists. And we’d applaud Mr. Spacey seeking a starring role.

2 Responses to How realistic is the dialogue in the Grove Playhouse drama?

  1. Max Pearl

    March 18, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    In 2009, I started the Facebook page “Save the Coconut Grove Playhouse”, which now has almost 10,000 followers. I have been involved in the private meetings for this project and have gotten to know the players behind the scenes. Here are the problems I’ve found with some excerpts from your article:

    “We look for a lot more evidence than just dialogue to support the protagonists.” If you truly want evidence, its there waiting for you to make an attempt to find it. I did. And here’s what I found. You state: “The county named star architects Arquitectonica to consult on a new structure.” Do you think they are a star architect considering the Miami Herald reporting they are being sued by the Miami Heat for $17.5 million for major construction flaws of the American Airlines Arena? Yet the design team selection committee (comprised of Michael Spring, Miami Parking Authority, FIU, and Black Archives)gave higher scores to Arquitectonica than Richard Heisenbottle, who has designed dozens of historic theaters, including the downtown Gusman Olympia. Arquitectonica meanwhile, has no experience restoring historic theaters.
    Next you state: “It’s a great cast: all stars and no bit players, all heroes and no villains.” No villains? Really? Michael Spring wants to hijack this project from what it was intended to be, which was determined by the citizens’ 2004 vote to “restore”–not demolish–the historic, iconic, national treasure, the Coconut Grove Playhouse. How do I know Michael Spring wants it demolished? He wants a 300 seat theater. How else do you turn a 1200 seat theater into 300 seats without a demolition? Spring has also stated publicly (at a 2011 Grove Women’s Club meeting I was present at) that the building is not salvageable. He is also the propagator of the unsubstantiated rumor (which you have repeated here) that the building was constructed with beach sand. While some structures built at that time may have mixed sand into the construction materials, I have yet to see any evidence this was the case here. We know the building needs fixing, that’s why we had a vote to restore it. But “restoration” has a specific definition which does not include demolishing a historic landmark and turning it into a building 1/4 the original size. Additionally, and this was mentioned by Commissioner Suarez at last Thursday’s hearing, there is new engineering technology today that allows more of the original building to be preserved while the needed repairs take place. Michael Spring as leader of the selection committee to find an architect, broke protocol by refusing to allow the candidates to give oral presentations. While its not technically against the rules, all of the candidates (I spoke with all of them) have stated they have never experienced foregoing the second step of the selection process. They all found that “highly unusual”. Michael Spring also failed to procure any historical preservation representative to sit on the selection committee panel. Spring responded by saying Timothy Barber filled that role, yet he was not identified under that title.
    You go on to say that: “Mr. Eidson, looking for theater with general appeal, quietly lobbied to get 750 seats.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. The Miami Herald published several pieces announcing a public meeting at Miami City Hall for the purpose of Eidson making his plans open to the public. It was much more publicized than the clandestine plans by Michael Spring who secretly negotiated with GableStage, without open bidding to other theater operators. Also, although you reported to the contrary, Eidson’s foundation has been in existence for over a year now.

    You want evidence not just dialogue? Then instead of giving more dialogue (some of it erroneous), you might start by making efforts to look for the evidence right under your nose.

  2. CL Jahn

    March 23, 2015 at 11:59 am

    The biggest threat to resurrecting the Coconut Grove Playhouse is actually Max Pearl and the poorly informed followers of his Facebook page.

    He’s passionate, I’ll give him that. But he hasn’t bothered to associate himself with the actual history of The Grove, or to familiarize himself with the local theatre scene, its history, and its economics.

    For example, if he’d been following the local theatre scene all along, he’d know that Joe Adler wasn’t chosen in a secret meeting; the old Coconut Grove Playhouse Board put out an open call for theater companies to submit proposals. And of those submissions, Joe Adler’s bid was the only one to come from a firmly established professional group. Nothing secret about that; if Mr. Pearl had been reading newspapers at the time, he’d be aware of it. But instead, we get Mr. Pearl’s outrageous fairy tale.

    He also continues to deny the firmly established fact that The Grove is structurally unsound: whether or not beach sand was used to make the concrete, the fact remains that there has been extensive spalling, and that much of the steel reinforcement is simply gone. This was discovered when they were upgrading the fly system: they couldn’t find any steel in the walls to attach the new equipment. In fact, most of the south wall is being held up by temporary bracing – it’s what’s behind the plywood box you can see in most photos of the building.

    Mr. Pearl also continues to misrepresent the language the grants that were put aside for the renovation of the Playhouse: at no time did any of the document call for or even suggest a restoration. Mr. Pearl is simply lying to us about that, and hoping that none of us bothered to do the research.

    But I did do the research:

    I would love to see a new Coconut Grove Playhouse producing world-class theater. But I recognize that the old building isn’t fit to house it. But don’t take my word for it: simply ask any of its former production staff.