Coconut Grove Playhouse board decides not to fight imminent state takeover

 

The board of the Coconut Grove Playhouse voted not to fight a state take-back of the historic but long-closed theater, potentially clearing the way for Miami-Dade County to resuscitate it.

aviglucci@MiamiHerald.com

The nonprofit board of the Coconut Grove Playhouse voted Tuesday not to fight a state take-back of the 1926 theater, potentially clearing the way for a plan by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez to resuscitate the historic but long-closed landmark.

The unanimous board decision, which came after what some attendees said was a vigorous debate, means the state will likely re-assume ownership of the financially troubled theater — which closed abruptly in 2006 — next week.

The state, which sent the board a letter last month saying it intended to invoke its power to retake control of the debt-ridden theater after efforts by Gimenez to settle outstanding claims and take over the playhouse stalled, has not spelled out its intentions. The state had deeded the playhouse to the board in 2004 with a clause allowing it to reclaim the property if it wasn’t used for live theater.

But playhouse chairwoman Shelly Spivack and outgoing House majority leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who helped engineer the looming state takeover to break a longstanding impasse over control of the property, said Tuesday they believe the state will deed the playhouse to the county, which has earmarked $20 million toward a partial restoration and redevelopment.

“I’m glad all this time and energy I’ve spent on this is finally coming to fruition. And now finally the board is in agreement,’’ said Lopez-Cantera, who in August was elected Miami-Dade County property appraiser, a job he is to assume in January.

Still, numerous questions loom over the playhouse, including the ultimate fate of the rundown Mediterranean Revival theater building, a designated historic landmark widely regarded as one of the city’s architectural treasures. Plans for its resuscitation have revolved around preserving the historic facade while building a smaller and more financially feasible new theater behind it, with commercial development on its parking lot providing revenue to support its operation.

But Gimenez, who has endorsed that outline, said Gov. Rick Scott’s administration now requires a share of revenue from commercial development on state property, which could be a stumbling block.

“We will have to negotiate with the state,’’ Gimenez said. “I think if we explain that all revenue from development would go to subsidize the theater, and it won’t go to the county, they will be OK with that.’’

Also unresolved is what happens to outstanding claims by developers who had signed agreements with the board to redevelop the theater property. Gimenez had reached a settlement agreement with one developer.

But another, Gino Falsetto of the Aries Group, who claims the playhouse owes him $1.5 million, rejected a $300,000 county offer. Falsetto says Gimenez then rejected several “reasonable’’ counter-offers, including a redevelopment proposal backed by a financial white knight. Also unclear is what happens to an ancillary theater building on Main Highway known as the bike shop, which is still owned by the board and was not part of the state deed. Aries group holds a mortgage on the building.

“Obviously I will have to litigate aggressively,’’ Falsetto said Tuesday.

Spivack said her board and county staff tried to resolve the claim up to the time of the board’s vote Tuesday afternoon but could not come to an agreement with Aries.

Board member Jorge Luis Lopez, a lawyer, said he believes the state takeover could effectively wipe out the claims, but acknowledged the matter may have to be resolved in court. Lopez noted the city of Miami has also filed a lien against the property for tens of thousands of dollars in accrued fines over building-code violations because of vandalism, which the state may be responsible for resolving.

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