Deal outlines development and parking at Coconut Grove Playhouse
Written by John Charles Robbins on July 17, 2018
The city’s Off-Street Parking Board has approved a memorandum of understanding with Miami-Dade County for a new parking garage and related development next door to the Coconut Grove Playhouse.
The unanimous vote by the parking board came July 11.
County officials are moving forward with the plan to restore the front of the historic theater, build a new 300-seat theater and ancillary uses on the footprint of the large and dilapidated auditorium, and be a partner in a plan for a public garage framed by commercial square footage.
The site at 3500 Main Highway in the Grove has been closed more than a decade, as state, county and city officials debated its fate. The theater is owned by the state and leased to Miami-Dade County and Florida International University (FIU).
The county-approved redevelopment plan would basically save and restore the front of the theater – sometimes referred to as the eyebrow due to its angular shape – and demolish the larger auditorium and build a state-of-the-art theater with about 300 seats, to be operated and programmed by GableStage Inc.
The city’s Urban Development Review Board on Feb. 21 voted 6-0 to recommend approval of the restoration as presented, many complimenting the design to revive the famous venue.
On the heels of last week’s action by the parking board, on behalf of the Miami Parking Authority (MPA), the county’s plan was to go before the city’s Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board on July 18.
The county is asking for an exception and for some waivers to allow for the restoration, alterations, expansion and master planning of the locally designated Coconut Grove Playhouse on a parcel zoned Civic Institutional Transect Zone “CI” within the Neighborhood Conservation District (NCD-3).
Listed as the applicant is Michael Spring, on behalf of the Miami-Dade County Department of Cultural Affairs.
In a letter to the city’s planning director, Mr. Spring wrote, “The County seeks to restore the iconic front building to its 1927 glory, to return great theater to the historic home of theater in Coconut Grove in a new 300-seat theater that honors the past, and to create a hub for the community with its pedestrian-friendly spaces.”
He goes on to say a parking garage with office space lining the building’s street frontage is proposed for the north side of the site where surface parking currently exists.
“The garage will serve the needs of the theater as well as nearby merchants and the Grove community and it will include food and beverage, retail, and office space facing both Main Highway and the residential neighborhood to the west, providing the parking garage with people-friendly facades,” wrote Mr. Spring.
Parking Authority CEO Art Noriega prepared a background report for the parking board, touching on the history of the playhouse project and the MPA’s involvement.
Miami-Dade County and FIU are joint lessees to a lease agreement with the State of Florida, dated Oct. 8, 2013, regarding the lease of the property known as the Coconut Grove Playhouse.
The term is set for 50 years commencing on Oct. 15, 2013, with two additional options to renew for 25 years each.
Pursuant to the lease, the county and FIU “may enter into agreements with outside parties for the purpose of managing, operating and/or maintaining all or a portion of Lessees’ operations and/or leased premises, including, without limitation, ancillary and supporting functions such as vehicular parking, with the State reserving the right to review any proposed agreement.”
The county contracted for development of a master plan and design documents for the leased premises which include, among other things, the addition of a garage situated at the current location of surface parking on the north part of the site, retail space at the ground level of the parking garage facing Main Highway, and a food and beverage establishment between the theater and the garage.
“The development and operation of these facilities will complement the long-term success of the theater by helping to ensure its economic viability,” Mr. Noriega wrote. “Providing a parking facility and compatible development also supports the County’s plan to reactivate the Coconut Grove Playhouse and provide community benefits by adding parking capacity that serves audience members and staff of the theater, visitors, merchants, office workers, patrons, residents, the adjacent business district and area schools.”
After the lease was signed, the county entered into a Management and Operating Agreement with the Department of Off-Street Parking – the Miami Parking Authority – regarding the parking on the leased property and allowing the MPA the right to manage and operate the existing surface parking at the site.
That agreement also provides the MPA with the first option to present a plan to the county for future development, which may include expanded parking, a residential component, and a retail component.
Mr. Noriega said the county and MPA want the new memo of understanding to set up the structure by which they may enter into future agreements for the funding, design, bidding, construction, and operation of project components.
The memo of understanding lists six project components, estimated square footage, and what entity would be in charge of operation and management. They include:
1. Theater 300 seats, 19,310 square feet, operated and managed by GableStage Inc.
2. Rehearsal, Costume and Scene Shop, 9,150 square feet, operated and managed by GableStage Inc.
3. Historic Front Building, 13,750 square feet, operated and managed by developer/operator, and/or MPA.
4. Restaurant/Retail, 4,700 square feet, operated and managed by developer/operator, and/or MPA.
5. Garage, 300 parking spaces, operated and managed by MPA. (Square footage is not listed for the garage.)
6. Office, 33,580 square feet, operated and managed by developer/operator and/or MPA.
The new agreement reads, “MPA shall take the lead on drafting and issuing a solicitation for the selection of a developer/operator for Project Components Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6, in cooperation with and subject to the approval of the County.”
The new agreement lists funding resources for parts of the project.
It says the county has secured $20 million ($15 million from the Building Better Communities General Obligation Bond and $5 million from Convention Development Tax bond proceeds) for development of the theater.
It says the MPA will secure all resources necessary to develop the garage.
The agreement notes that the parking authority sold the Oak Avenue Parking Garage in the Grove with the intention of reinvesting $6 million of the proceeds in the playhouse garage and related developments, and the Coconut Grove Business Improvement District has committed to providing MPA with $3 million for the playhouse garage.
The aging theater shut down in 2006 after financial woes strapped the group in charge.
Some preservationists have been fighting to save the entire building, including the large auditorium, and some have supported third-party plans for a much larger theater.
The Mediterranean Revival-style structure had been acquired by the state in 1980 when it agreed to purchase its $1.5 million mortgage, according to a Miami city report on the site.
Originally, the theater could seat 1,500 and the building housed seven ground-floor storefronts, 10 second-floor offices and third-floor apartments.