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Front Page » Top Stories » Coconut Grove Playhouse Board Targets Deficit

Coconut Grove Playhouse Board Targets Deficit

Written by on September 28, 2006

By Eric Kalis
Coconut Grove Playhouse board members are forging ahead with plans to erase the theater’s $4 million debt by brainstorming fundraising ideas with consultants and addressing several legal disputes.

Shelly Spivack, chairperson of the 80-year-old theater’s board of directors, said the board is to meet this week with AMS Research and Planning, a Connecticut consulting firm hired to help draft a long-term vision for the playhouse by using a $150,000 grant from Miami-Dade County. The firm is to outline an agenda for fundraising at the meeting, Ms. Spivack said, with a goal of launching a mini-season sometime in 2007.

The playhouse shut down in April when its financial struggles made insurance inaffordable, leading to the forced resignation of longtime artistic director Arnold Mittelman.

Even if a concrete fundraising plan is established this week, theater officials will not seek donations until significant progress is made in repaying the debt, said Emily Cardenas, newly-elected vice chair of the board. Ms. Cardenas was one of four new officers appointed Sept. 20, with Ms. Spivack being the only returning officer. The board cut its size from 35 members to 23, as some members left voluntarily while others missed three meetings, which results in automatic removal.

"We need to strengthen our situation and put new systems in place before we ask people for money," Ms. Cardenas said. "People want to see tangible results before giving their money to the playhouse. That is why we hired the consultants."

The board announced at the Sept. 20 meeting that it would allow Coconut Grove Bank to keep a $125,000 certificate of deposit Mr. Mittelman put up as collateral for a loan he took out in March on behalf of the playhouse. Mr. Mittelman bought the CD with a $125,000 state grant awarded to help fund the theater’s renovation. The Florida Department of State later demanded repayment of the grant after finding out that Mr. Mittelman used it as collateral for a loan.

Ms. Cardenas said the playhouse has not determined exactly how to repay the grant but said it will be a priority in coming months as the board formulates a fundraising strategy. The board is also seeking off-street parking revenue from the months after the theater’s closing, based on a past deal with the City of Miami, she said. The money is from meters along the playhouse property.

To settle a dispute with the city, the board decided to accept the city’s historic designation of the theater site except for the adjacent parking lot, which could be developed, Ms. Cardenas said.

These are preliminary steps in reviving the playhouse. Substantial money is still owed to several banks, vendors, employees and utilities, said Jordi Guso, an attorney for Miami-based Berger Singerman, which the playhouse hired to deal with its creditors. No timeline has been set for clearing the entire debt, Mr. Guso said.

"The board has been direct with each creditor," Mr. Guso said. "The playhouse is not generating revenue right now, but people are working mightily to do so." Advertisement