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Friday, July 28, 2017

There's a new Coconut Grove Playhouse proposal

New image of proposed Coconut Grove Playhouse by Playhouse Foundation. This is the garage, next to the Playhouse at the far left.

The Coconut Grove BID board was privy to something new and special at Tuesday's meeting. A new plan for the Coconut Grove Playhouse was introduced.
Olga Granda, Executive Director of the Coconut Grove Playhouse Foundation, shared a new concept and model of the Foundation's vision for the Playhouse. While it is more in line with what residents would like to see, it is also a bit compatible with what the county has proposed, which was approved by the City's HEP Board. This new plan also calls for rebuilding the theater portion itself while keeping the historic "winged" entrance. This new rendition has a lot of clean lines and open space. But will be framed by the winged frontage that we are all so familiar with.

This new version has 700 seats as opposed to the County's plans of 300 seats, and a small separate black box theater, as well as multiple additional outdoor performance and recreational areas.  There's lots of green space.

An interesting fact brought up at the meeting is that with the current County plan, the Miami Parking Authority is not only building the garage, but renovating the front winged-area of the Playhouse and some other areas, and the County is only responsible for the theater building.

700 seats makes sense to the Playhouse Foundation because, "There are at least 10 publicly owned 300-seat theaters in the county," said Olga. "So it doesn't make sense to build another one." The 700 seats would accommodate larger shows and audiences, and it would give the Grove a leg-up regarding county theaters. Larger shows would come to the Grove because of the accommodations that the smaller theaters could not provide. We would have something that the others don't. 

There is a plan to add a 150 to 200-seat black box theater to the playhouse, which would be very flexible. It would be part of the main building. It's a performance space that is sort of like a warehouse that is set up differently to accommodate various productions. This black box would be on the roof,  and from the outdoor area on the roof, you will be able to see the bay over the trees across the street.

"We worked from the Historical Assessment Report completed by Jorge Hernandez, Arquitectonica, and the County and so this plan also restores the 'Historic Entrance Building' exclusively and demolishes all other existing construction on the property as per the recent HEP Board approval. Where it went a step further in honoring historic precedent is that it does not build on the areas which were previously residentially zoned and have never been built on before," says Olga.

The architectural group they commissioned is Gelpi Projects, whose principal is Nick Gelpi.

New Playhouse grounds?

A conservatory on the property is another idea, since, "There should be an educational component," according to Olga. It will bring in additional revenue. The second floor, as shown here, will have large picture windows and classrooms. The windows would allow people to look in on the classes. She compared it to the Miami City Ballet, which used to have a big window set-up on Miami Beach, where passersby could watch the dancers rehearse.

This has no relationship to the project the county is proposing. This is a conceptual vision. "There are still many benchmarks that the county has to meet," said Olga, so there is time for everyone to study this new concept.

Originally, the county plans had a 300-seat and possibly a second 700-seat theater, but there was thought to be too much density in the project with two theaters. Many felt two buildings did not make sense.

The original winged, or eyebrow building as some call it, has lofts, or small apartments on the third floor, which would remain and be used by the Playhouse for visiting artists, possibly offices, etc. 

Commissioner Ken Russell, who was at the meeting, asked if the county mayor and county commissioners had a chance to see this new version. As of yet, no, they have not, according to Olga. As far as I know, we are presenting it here to the public for the first time, other than the people who saw it first at the BID meeting.

The $20.5 million that is earmarked from the county, would stay with the property and be included with this plan. The total new plan including the parking garage would be $80 million according to the Foundation's estimation. Interestingly enough, it appears that the $20.5 million from the county is only for the theater section of the building, it cannot go toward the front "wings/eyebrow" building entrance. Just to rebuild and renovate the theater alone, without the parking garage, will be $39 million, without the outdoor recreational areas and other ancillary parts.  The BID is prepared to contribute $3 million to the project, which all goes to the parking garage only. And $6.5 million is coming from the Oak Avenue garage, which was sold by the City awhile back. That would go toward the playhouse garage, too. 

There were those at the BID meeting who questioned the whole point of adding condos to the parking garage, which is part of the current plan. The Foundation's plan does not include this. The County's garage plan calls for 27 condo units as part of the garage and 461 parking spaces, with 15,000 square feet of commercial space - all contained in four floors. The new garage plan calls for three floors with about 100 parking spaces per floor, with retail on the ground floor. 

Olga says residents are not in favor of the first plan with the condos as part of the garage. Some wonder if it will be affordable housing, since the garage is being subsidized.  Not that there is anything wrong with that, but it just defeats the purpose of having the condos to raise money for the building fund. The Foundation preferred to keep their plan contained to cultural activities, as residents requested, eliminating housing. Margaret Nee, a member of the BID board, felt that the garage could do without any condos and it needed to be more "artistic" and fit in better with Grove. She brought up new garages that are being built all over the county that make a statement. She loved the idea of all the green space associated with this new plan, as did many of the board members present.

From the street over the historic façade, you cannot see the theater in the back. It is not taller than the front area. So the façade you see now as you come up the block would remain. 

Grove residents by a large margin would like the whole theater saved and not partially re-built, there is a lawsuit to that affect, you may remember. This appeal issue will come before the City Commission on October 26. Two Grove residents filed the appeal against the HEP Board's approval of the County's plans.

Commissioner Russell says he has heard a lot from the neighbors and said he knows the neighbors do care.  He will keep that in mind when the vote comes up in the fall. He says that people need to make their voices heard and funding needs to come together for this new project if it is to move forward.

Art Noriega, head of the Miami Parking Authority and a BID board member, asked people to think of the completed project. "Look at a site from an operational standpoint." He asked if it will have to be subsidized every year because of the large seat count now part of this new plan.

Art says that the reasoning behind the original plans for the retail and condo parts of the garage was to activate the area more by having more people and more activity on that end of town and also to add what he calls "an economic driver" to the project, as well. That helps to subsidize the costs. 

"Arnold Mittelman ran that theater for 23 years and he balanced his budget for 21 of those years," said Olga, referring to not needing condos or lots of retail in a garage to fund the theater.  She says that theaters all over the country, in smaller cities than Miami, balance their budgets every year. "We are building for the next 100 years. We're not building for the past," she said. For one thing, Miami is not seasonal anymore. Where the Playhouse was closed for six months a year in the past, it probably would not be like that now. The goal would be to operate 365 days a year. 

Commissioner Russell says this new plan is not a realistic choice at this point, because there is no cash in hand for this option. And therein lies the rub, the project needs funding.

This almost reminds me of the Underline project, where money is being raised piece-by-piece and millions  of dollars have been raised already. It might behoove the Coconut Grove Playhouse Foundation to reach out to the people at the Underline and ask for some guidance in reaching their goal. But with either proposal, this new plan and the County's current plan, the sticking point with the residents is about keeping the theater section and not replacing it, as both proposals indicate they would need to do.

At the end of the meeting, BID members made a motion that the County do a study for the potential for a 700-seat theater in the Playhouse.  Also, have the County be sure there is lots of green space and Margaret Nee brought up a "video sound wall" or some sort of outdoor screening area. "And maybe lose the 27 units," she added, referring to the garage condos.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad to see there is an alternative Playhouse plan to that being proposed by MDC and Architectonica (the Romero Britto of design).
Is the Playhouse Foundation a legit organization that is a stakeholder with real influence in the future of the Playhouse? Or just another advisory group with no funds and no teeth.
Interesting that this presentation was made to the BID. I was not aware that the BID responsibilities and authority reached as far at Grove Playhouse.
So now there are two designs by two architecture firms nd neither one happens to be Richard Heisenbottle the most successful Historic Preservation architect that restored Miami City Hall (former Pan Am Terminal), Freedom Tower and the Olympia (Gusman) Theater just to name a few.
Lets not forget that Arnold Mittelman was directly responsible for bankrupting the Grove Playhouse and creating this situation that has resulted in it's years of Demolition Through Neglect" and now efforts of MDC to modernize it with glass and steel and even condos!
Commissioner Russell has an opportunity to hear the voices of Grovites and help in efforts to totally restore the Grove Playhouse to its historic grandeur and return this once Economic Engine to the Grove.

July 28, 2017 7:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Couldn't open the drop box files but the photo looks like we would be getting another Home Depot only with windows.

July 28, 2017 8:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


July 28, 2017 8:43 AM  
Blogger reid prevatt said...

the underline is Not even close to being funded. I think they want 120 million. Playhouse right now does not have much of a plan. How many years?????? has the place rotted. Also 700 seats. That is huge. Look at the gusman. Hard times

July 28, 2017 1:46 PM  
Blogger Glenn Patron said...

I would like to comment on Ms Granda’s statement:

"There are at least 10 publicly owned 300-seat theaters in the county," said Olga. "So it doesn't make sense to build another one." The 700 seats would accommodate larger shows and audiences……”

She appears to have forgotten about the existence of Arsht Center ‘s 2 theatres and the County Auditorium on 8th St. Each seat about 2,000 people . South Miami/Dade CAC has almost 1,000. The auditoriums of Miami’s Universities are all over 500 in capacity.

It seems to me that that last thing we would want to have is a Playhouse that continually operates at a loss because they can not fill all of the 700 seats week after week.

So I instead of all of us amateur theater production experts expressing our amateur opinions I ask; Was a marketing study ever done to determine the market potential for this theatre? Or shall we continue throwing darts at the numbers.

July 28, 2017 9:18 PM  

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