Burn Notice Gets Move Notice From Miami
By Meisha Perrin
The Burn was Noticed at last week’s Miami City Commission meeting as commissioners and producers of hit television show Burn Notice debated renewal of their lease of the 107,000-square-foot Coconut Grove Exposition Center for one more year — if the series itself gets renewed for its final season.
With Miami as the backdrop and more than 6 million viewers of the last completed season, the benefits of having the series in the Grove have been visible, according to commissioners. However, for Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, who wants to transform the waterfront into a park, enough is enough.
"We’re pretty much ready to go in Coconut Grove when it comes to the master plan," Mr. Sarnoff said.
The master plan includes demolishing the convention center and redeveloping the Coconut Grove waterfront.
"I don’t think anybody here is proud of the waterfront, and I don’t think we should be" Mr. Sarnoff said.
"We could open up the waterfront and we should open up the waterfront," he said. "The money is there. We are ready to go."
Producers of the show, however, whose payments have contributed toward the waterfront’s redevelopment fund for five years, aren’t so ready to go.
The show’s producer, Terry Miller, told commissioners that after the lease expires in October, the company would need the convention center for one more year to film its seventh and final season if it gets picked up.
Mr. Sarnoff suggested moving production to the city’s newly purchased and still being developed Miami Entertainment Complex, a Northwest 13th Street building that the city bought from the school system last year for $3.1 million to build jobs in a lower-income neighborhood. But Burn Notice officials said that’s not feasible.
For the show to move out of the expo center to another facility would cost about $1 million, said Robert "Bob" Lemchen, head of production for Fox Entertainment studios, parent company of Burn Notice.
"In addition, our show is built around shooting in the Grove," Mr. Lemchen told commissioners. "What that means is when we are able to base at our home environment here and just walk out or push carts and do shuttles, we save about $20,000 a day."
The cost of moving all of the equipment, which would also include electrical wiring and ducting, according to Mr. Lemchen, to a facility that requires a large amount of upgrades before it can be utilized is not much of an alternative for TVM Productions.
Further, the show employss about 150 people, spends $25 million in Miami and pays $240,000 a year to the city, an amount TVM productions says it is willing to increase if commissioners allow them to stay the extra year.
Although Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones would love to have the show move into the Miami Entertainment Complex her district, she said, she also understands the difficulty in asking the production to move its entire set to a warehouse that she knows requires a lot of improvement and is clearly unable to accommodate them.
"I support 100% the green space, and I am excited that it is moving in that direction," she said of Mr. Sarnoff’s plan. But "if we have business happening right here in the heart of the Grove… what is the issue with giving them another year?"
The issue, said Mr. Sarnoff — who said he has always supported the film industry — is that every year the show’s producers have said that it would be their last year. Now, he said, he is more ready than ever to put his redevelopment plan into motion and has stated that he’s more than willing to help TVM Productions find another facility to utilize that makes sense economically.
"I understand the benefits of what the film industry does for the city of Miami," said Commissioner Wifredo Gort, who put discussion of the Burn Notice lease on last week’s commission agenda. "I also understand, because I was here before. The residents of Coconut Grove have been waiting for a change in that park for a long time."
"If you are ready to go and the development is ready to take place, I’m with you and I support you 100%," he said to Mr. Sarnoff.
"But let’s notify the people and let them know they don’t have another year, because it’s my understanding that it will take them a long time to move everything they have," Mr. Gort added.
Still, if the lease isn’t renewed, Miami might be sending the wrong message to the film and entertainment industry, according to Sandy Lighterman, film and entertainment industry liaison for the Miami-Dade County Office of Film and Entertainment — and especially to TVM Productions, which already has plans to film two new series in Broward County.
"It will send a message to the production world, to Hollywood and globally that we are not entirely film friendly — that we are not open for business," Ms. Lighterman said. "Word of mouth is very powerful in this business."
And it’s not just what happens in the city of Miami, according to Ms. Lighterman, because the film and entertainment industry doesn’t differentiate among Miami, Miami Beach and even Fort Lauderdale. In the mind of production executives, she said, they think of South Florida as a whole.
"It definitely will affect our reputation," she said. "With that said, we are hoping that everybody can come to terms. We are still hoping for a positive
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