Miami Beach theater restoration shows flickers of hope
Still unclear on what to do with the shuttered Byron Carlyle theater, the City of Miami Beach agreed to put a placeholder of $400,000 from the city’s budget reserve to possibly be used for a conceptual design, but not until the city commission gets community feedback, structural assessments and a solid plan.
Its conceptual design, if approved, would cost the city up to $400,000 of its resort tax revenue.
But after a lengthy discussion on allocating funds for the advancement of the Byron Carlyle’s conceptual design, the city commission last Thursday did not reach agreement on whether to spend the money, citing an inability to find a consensus on what to do with the building.
“We’re talking about the early starting point for design,” said Commissioner Mark Samuelian. “It does not prejudge the solution, it does not necessary mandate what we’re going to do. But it’s an open process and I’m very keen that we have a community-driven conceptual design.”
But it is not fiscally responsible to spend money on a design that might not become reality because the city does not have the $15 million to $20 million yet that it would cost to build a multi-facility cultural center, which has been widely advocated for, or remodel the old building, said Commissioner Ricky Arriola.
“My concern is that we spend $400,000 to $500,000 on a design and then it gets mothballed for two, three, four years,” said Mr. Arriola, advocating for the administration to spend up to $100,000 instead, “because that’s the way these things work. And then we find the money, but we have to redo this all over again.”
M.C. Harry and Associates reported in June that the 1968-vintage two screen theater at 500 71st St. could be remodeled to be wholly or partially leased for $15,447,257 and rebuilt into a cultural center for $19,921,788. The city commission, citing other capital priorities, spoke about the alternatives of a P3 – a public-private partnership – and cultural bonds that the city could issue to help bring a cultural center construction of the Byron Carlyle.
The property has been deemed, for the past three years, as inhabitable, “condemned, a risk of demolition, with early signs of graffiti on the windows,” Mr. Samuelian said. Structural assessments and community engagement efforts could determine what the community is expecting to get.
A resident survey, with results due Oct. 15, was done by ETC Institute last March as “a quick snapshot of what the community envisioned or was going to be looking for,” said Assistant City Manager Lester Sola. Once the city gets that information, he said, it will start conducting community engagements to start exploring possibilities of how to build the cultural center.
Former Commissioner Nancy Liebman, who served from 1993 to 2001, said the city has to do something now. “Your conversation was excellent, but we’re heard that 15 times, so now is the time that we do something,” she said.
“I’m OK with having $400,000 out there if we’re going to use it,” said Mayor Dan Gelber. “But I don’t want us to start going on the path of designing something if I don’t think there is consensus.”
Passing the resolution of starting a conceptual design without the community input and the proper professional and structural assessments on the condition of the building and the theater market study, said Commissioner Micky Steinberg, creates an expectation that might not be met.
“We should direct the administration to further explore possible partnerships, whether it is a P3 or a cultural anchor, there are so many possibilities for reduction of costs, before we actually start any design process,” said Ms. Steinberg. “Before any amount is spent, it should come back to the commission so that we can ensure that we are truly moving forward in the right direction.”
“We have to understand where we’re at in the marketplace,” added Mr. Arriola. “During Covid-19, consumer behavior changed dramatically. We don’t know if movie theaters are going to last. So, even if the community tells us to build another movie theater, that might not be the wisest use of public funds.”
But allocating zero dollars to this, said Mr. Samuelian, is wrong.
“Having a designated budget, however much the policymakers want to choose,” said Chief Financial Officer John Woodruff, “keeps the project moving. It’s a long process to get there, so, [not designating a budget] delays things.”
Mayor Gelber agreed to carry the item into the budget, as long as the spending comes after the necessary assessments and the results of the community survey.
“While we’re allocating up to $400,000 from our reserves, we’re not going to spend anything until the city comes back with a plan that we approve,” said Commissioner David Richardson. “Then, the money would be spent if it should be spent.”