The fight over the Coconut Grove Playhouse is more than just a political battle between two mayors who may very well be facing each other on a ballot near you soon. It is proof positive that Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who wants to sell off every part of the county he can before he is out of office next year, has become completely delusional or thinks he can lie with impunity.
Because Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, who vetoed the county plan last month, is not the only one who thinks the rush to demolish 90% of the existing, historic building should be put on pause. He has the city’s historic preservation board, two city commissioners and a few dozen (or maybe hundreds of) residents on his side.
Not that Gimenez will let anybody know that. In a piece he wrote for the Herald over the weekend, our esteemed Mayor Giveaway says that Suarez has “distorted ‘views'” full of “convenient falsehoods” — don’t know why he uses the quotes on his own assertions — to veto the 3-2 decision.
Guess he must think that the historic board members and residents and prominent preservationists against his plan also have “distorted views” full of “convenient falsehoods.” This time the quote marks are mine.
Okay, Ladra has been away for a while. Let’s get up to speed first.
The playhouse saga is a political drama in three acts, with the ending apparently to be decided in the courts because Gimenez can never admit defeat. We’re at the end of the second act, after the Miami Commission last month upheld the very first veto in Suarez’s administration, which was to save the historic playhouse and not just the front facade. The commission had earlier voted 3-2 to gut the 1927 building — the only large theater in South Florida — and build a mini-version, about a third the size, with a really cool-looking restaurant and parking garage attached.
This vote was actually against the recommendation of the city’s Historic Preservation Board, which had earlier voted to deny the county’s application. So, in other words, Suarez stuck with the recommendation made by the apolitical citizen committee of historical preservationists and experts.
There is also some question as to whether the state — which actually owns the Playhouse and leases it to the Miami-Dade and Florida International University under a redevelopment agreement — would allow for 90 % of its property to be demolished and replaced. According to a March 1 letter to the city from Florida’s Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer, Jason Aldridge, the county plan is inconsistent with the historic nature of the property.
“Demolition of the Playhouse structure as outlined in the provided plans is not consistent with the standards,” he wrote, urging that the county “explore potential alternatives.”
The state of Florida actually owns the Playhouse and leased it to the county in 2014 with the caveat that it get the theater up and running again.
Five years later, we got nada.
Well, actually, we have what looks like demolition by neglect, a term used when a property owner — or in this case the renter — intentionally allows a historic property to suffer severe deterioration, potentially beyond the point of repair, using this long-term neglect to circumvent historic preservation rules.
Because five years later, the “only viable plan” includes the demolition of most of a cultural and historical treasure — listed on the National Register of Historic Places — and the disappearance of the only large theater in a culturally diverse and rich metropolitan area that should support one.
In fact, it’s not the only viable plan, as respected philanthropist and political fundraising padrino Mike Eidson and noted architect Richard Heisenbottle offered up a competing vision that preserves the building. Activist attorney David Winker is representing Grove residents who want to explore other possibilities before tearing down and destroying their history.
And is it really viable at all if the state of Florida, the property owner, is not on board?
Instead of rethinking his plan — perhaps reconsidering the other options or just giving them the same opportunity to be heard — the county mayor forges right ahead, shoving his demolition by neglect plan down our throats. To the point that even before the veto stood — it needed four out of five votes and Commissioners Ken Russell and Keon Hardemon stuck with no — Gimenez threatens to take the matter to court, out of their hands completely.
“Regardless of the continued roadblocks placed in our way, we remain determined to making sure that our playhouse project becomes a reality for all of our residents,” Gimenez wrote in that op-ed piece Saturday.
In other words, it doesn’t matter what the people who elected him want.
Why is Gimenez so dead set on demolition and redevelopment? Is it because of the $23 million plus in contracts that are expected to be doled out? Who is in line to get some of those funds and how are they connected to the Gimenez friends and family plan?
Gimenez says that Suarez is misleading people about the Playhouse because there is no taxpayer impact — forgetting, apparently and again, that city residents also pay county taxes and that any subsidies the county gives or investments of county bond funds are still public dollars put toward what looks like a private project. Again.
He points to a survey about , but we know how he likes to push poll people to manipulate results, giving them only one choice. We remember the postcards to show support for the Kendall Parkway extension and none for opposition.
Gimenez also says that this is what people voted for in the 2004 when they approved $20 in bond funds for the restoration of the Coconut Grove Playhouse. That’s certainly a “convenient falsehood” in the sense that we voted for restoration, not the demolition of 90 percent of the Playhouse.
The mayor also uses his own scare tactics, telling people that the state could sell the playhouse — which has been closed since 2006 — if nothing happens and the development is delayed beyond the 2022 deadline. But he hasn’t expressed any worries about that until now, even though the state sent a letter in August of last year saying that the county was as already in breach of its contract terms to have a new theater in the permitting process by now.
Besides, if the state decides to auction off the Playhouse — which would only happen if no state agency or university comes up with an alternate proposal — any plan to redevelop it would still have to pass the city’s historic preservation board’s application process. Which seems pretty tight to me.
Remember, the state expressed in March that it did not like the Gimenez plan and found the “demolition of the Playhouse structure as outlined in the provided plans is not consistent with the standards.”
So who is misleading who, Gimenez? Looks like Mayor Giveaway is the one who is misleading the public about the plan he wants to railroad through and painting a distorted view of the legitimate opposition. Again.
Delusional? Or lying with impunity? Either one, it’s not good for the Playhouse or for us if he gets his way.