Coconut Grove Playhouse Tries To Quash Lawsuit Tying Up Parkinggarage Plans
By Leslie Kraft
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Coconut Grove Playhouse is trying to quash a lawsuit over a state-owned parking lot next to the playhouse where it wants to build a parking garage to generate revenue.
Bill Bloom, head of the playhouse’s legal committee, said he and lawyers for the state have filed a second motion to dismiss a 2002 suit filed by a developer who wanted to build a $30 million hotel-retail complex with a 500-space parking garage on the site, adjacent to the playhouse between Charles and Franklin avenues.
Playhouse Associates LC, owned by former City of Miami Zoning Board chairman Manuel Alonso-Poch, filed the suit after failing to reach a development agreement with the playhouse, Mr. Bloom said.
Mr. Bloom said Playhouse Associates had agreed with the state to develop the land, but the state decided to turn the parking lot over to the playhouse and Mr. Alonso-Poch could not reach an agreement with the playhouse. The playhouse expects to receive control of the parking lot in 60-90 days, Mr. Bloom added.
The playhouse hopes to work with the city’s Offstreet Parking Authority and the Washington Mutual Coconut Grove Arts Festival to build a parking garage that will generate at least $200,000 a year for the playhouse, said Mr. Bloom. The playhouse lost $500,000 from its budget this year because of state cuts in arts funding.
"Until the lawsuit is cleared, off-street parking and the festival are reluctant to enter into any further discussions over the garage," Mr. Bloom said. "So far, feasibility studies have been done regarding the garage, which would also have space for the festival’s headquarters."
He said the developer "never had a signed document to (develop the property). It just had the expectation of doing so."
Mr. Alonso-Poch said that during Playhouse Associates’ negotiations with the playhouse, "the playhouse board interfered and tried to get the property to develop for themselves. Basically, they saw the plan that we had and decided to try to do it by themselves.
"Our project was chosen by the state of Florida for the area," he said, "and we will either develop something on that property or (the state and the playhouse) will pay us for our losses as a result of breach of contract and intentional interference (by the playhouse) with our business relationship with the state."
Scott Leeds, an attorney for Playhouse Associates, did not return repeated calls for comment.
Mr. Bloom said the state had subleased the playhouse’s parking lot to the Department of State, who in turn subleased it to the city’s parking department. He said the parking department issued a request for proposals to develop a parking garage on the site and eventually chose Playhouse Associates.
However, the Department of State sued the parking department over a previous city decision to abandon plans for a new parking facility for the site.
Mr. Alonso-Poch said his project could not begin until that lawsuit was settled, but by the time the settlement was reached, the state had decided to turn the parking lot over to the playhouse.
Separately, the playhouse leases the land it occupies from the state for $1 per year in an agreement that runs through 2063.
State Rep. Gustavo Barreiro said Playhouse Associates had asked him to become involved in its talks with the playhouse. "It is very ironic that the playhouse is saying that the lawsuit is preventing them from developing their property," he said. "They have had plenty of time to do it, and there was a solid agreement on the table.
"Playhouse Associates spent substantial money and time with architects, attorneys and others to come up with the concept for the development. I would have liked to have seen the project built. It would have brought much-needed traffic to an area that has been underutilized for a long time."
Mr. Barreiro said he asked the state in 2001 to allow Playhouse Associates to develop the site – a project Mr. Alonso-Poch said he began working on in 1997.
"The state should have never been in the property business with the Coconut Grove Playhouse," Mr. Barreiro said. "They have been subsidizing the theater for years, and they are just now beginning to realize that it is time to stop."
Mr. Bloom disagreed.
"The state was fulfilling its mission to support the arts, just as it does with other theaters throughout the state. (Mr. Barreiro) is trying to paint this mission in the same light as a real-estate deal."
In 2001, playhouse officials said they were planning to break ground in summer 2003 on an expansion that would have added a second stage and a 494-car parking garage. Bal Harbour philanthropists Ophelia and Juan Js. Roca pledged more than $1 million toward the complex, but that plan has been down-sized due to the state budget cuts, Mr. Bloom said.
Mr. Alonso-Poch’s plan is for a 125-room hotel, 40,000 square feet of retail shops, up to 24 residential apartments and a 500-space parking garage. "The sad part is that as a result of all this, nothing happens," he said. Top Front Page About Miami Today Put Your Message in Miami Today Contact Miami Today © Copyright 2002 Miami Today designed and produced by Green Dot Advertising and Marketing