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Wednesday, May 08, 2019

City Commission approves County Playhouse plans

Architect Richard Heisnbottle pleads his case at Wednesday's meeting

The City Commission met Wednesday, to decide on the final fate of the Coconut Grove Playhouse. 

The City's HEP Board denied a certificate of demolition to the county, who has permission to renovate - not demolish - the playhouse. Their plans call for demolition of most of it.

In the end, after 10 hours of discussion, the City Commissioners voted 3-2 to grant the county's appeal of the HEP Board decision. Commissioners Ken Russell and Keon Hardemon voted against the approval. So the county's plans were approved by Joe Carollo, Manolo Reyes and Willy Gort.

Residents and others spoke for the first part of the meeting's morning session. Many spoke in favor of the county, many opposed.

After lunch, when the commission reconvened at 2:30 pm, more people spoke from audience. At the end, Mike Eidson and architect Richard Heisenbottle spoke and what they had to say was inspiring. They are both in favor of Heisenbottle's restoration plans.

They have plans to preserve the current playhouse. Mr. Eidson, a patron of the arts, has put in $2 million of his own to the project, that's how much he believes in it. He believes all they money can be raised to restore the playhouse and he feels that the property could be used every day of the year, including classes and workshops and it's an all inclusive thing for the whole city of Miami including a public/private partnership. It's theater for everyone. The cost according to Eidson - $45 million.

County Mayor Carlos Gimenez spoke, too. He said that over many years, Mr. Eidson has promised to raise money for his plan, but has never come through. Gimenez has given him many opportunities. 

Commissioner Ken Russell was concerned about the county's plan leading to removal from the Playhouse being removed from the National Register of Historic Places. He asked why no other plans were being considered.

Mayor Gimenez says he has been open to other plans, but none have come forth. But they have, they just didn't have the money to go with the plans. "The other group has not shown the financial capability to raise any amount of money. Not one cent has been added to his project other than the county," said Gimenez.

"Somebody has to be the champion for conservation," Ken said. "I don't believe in the demolition of the auditorium. Removal of it has an effect, it has an impact."

He wants to keep taking about preservation of the auditorium. Ken made a motion to approve the renovation of the front structure and the garage and also to demolish the bicycle shop, called the Coco Lopez building. "If we get this wrong, we get this wrong forever. It's coming up to its 100th birthday."

Commissioner Keon Hardemon seconded that. He appreciated the people who spoke earlier about the Bahamian history connected to the structure. He spoke of many historical structres in his own district, which includes Overtown, that have been saved over the years.

The motion failed 3-2.

Ken feels that part of the job can be started now including the garage and the front wings area. "They have to preserve the back building," he said, referring to the actual theater section.

"The money is not there to save the shell [the back building]," said Gimenez. "The theater will not work in it's current state," he said. 

What's interesting is that 3500 Pan American Drive (City Hall), has been restored perfectly, but 3500 Main Highway (the Playhouse) not so much. Ironically, Heisenbottle was the one who restored City Hall.

By the way, Mayor Francis Suarez has the last say - he has 10 days to veto this. Stay tuned . . .

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The pigs are going to have their feast.

May 08, 2019 8:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Woohoo! Finally! Looking forward to the product and finally bringing performing arts back to the Grove. This sideshow was a travesty.

May 08, 2019 8:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gimenez has it exactly right, Eidson's plan was always about making it the "Eidson Performing Arts Center". Taxpayers would have been left with the bill when it failed for the 7th time (think of the traffic on Main highway every night of the week to fill the original!). Glad they are moving forward with a plan that is financially tenable. Shame on Ken Russel, he has been a pandering, indecisive disaster throughout this whole process.

May 08, 2019 9:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pandering, my backside! He’s the only one who cares about preserving history here

May 09, 2019 1:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Losing the historic building would be tragic and an insult to Miami's heritage or whatever that is left of it. Losing the historic playhouse to a cardboard cut out of it would reflect badly on Russel's legacy, it can be a referendum of sort on him as an effective and potent leader.

May 09, 2019 11:52 AM  

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