Little Havana

MDC can’t say when Tower Theater will reopen

Tower Theater in Little Havana photographed on Friday, Dec. 7, 2012.
Tower Theater in Little Havana photographed on Friday, Dec. 7, 2012.
José A. Iglesias / El Nuevo Herald File

The recent renovations at the iconic Tower Theater on Calle Ocho had given hope to the owners of nearby businesses. But the work started in August, there’s no exact date for the reopening, and the neighbors say it’s been too long.

“We are anxious to reopen in a not-too-distant future,” said Alina Interián, executive director of cultural affairs at Miami Dade College, which manages the theater, 1508 SW Eighth St.

Interián said that although the renovation work is moving at a fast pace, she did not want to give a possible reopening date.

On Tuesday, workers were making repairs to the roof of the building, which has suffered from water leaks. The interior of the building already has been painted.

The Miami City Commission member for the district, Frank Carollo, said he also could not promise a reopening date for the theater.

“We don’t know exactly how long it will take for the work that must be done, and the most important thing is that everything comes out well,” said Carollo. “Everything indicates that the project is on schedule, and I hope the doors will open soon.”

Owners of the restaurants, art galleries and cigar shops nearby have been wondering whether the theater, traditionally one of principal venues for the Miami International Film Festival, will reopen in time for that event March 7-16.

“A lot of people keep asking me, and I tell that they have finally started the renovations and maybe it will open in March,” said Martha G. Ismail, a painter and owner of a gallery a few steps from the Tower. “But the truth is that we don’t know for sure, and the closing has been long, and it has hurt us.”

A sign posted on the entry to the theater says that the Film Festival programs will be at the Koubek Center, also run by MDC, at 2705 SW Third St.

Parts of the regular Tower shows also have been shifted to the Koubek Center, although that theater has not attracted the loyal audience of the movie house on Calle Ocho. Although a historic venue, the Koubek Center does not have the same charm as the Tower, nestled between the internationally known Domino Park, Cuban restaurants and art galleries.

The emblematic movie house in Little Havana was closed in August to start the renovation and modernization of the theater, built in 1926 and in decline until the city of Miami acquired it in 2002.

The city paid $3 million for the building and handed its management to MDC on the promise that it would present movies and cultural events at prices accessible to residents of Little Havana.

Now the Tower is an emblematic venue on Calle Ocho that attracts lovers of foreign movies. In 2011 the theater had 50,000 visitors, between locals and tourists.

“This is one of the most important places in the area, and its closing has affected the businesses of everyone in the neighborhood,” said Suzy Batlle, owner of the Azucar Ice Cream Co. across the street from the Tower. “The tourists still come, but it’s not the same movement of people, especially the local people.”

Interián said in an email that among the many improvements to the building will be the installation of a modern projection system. The theater will continue offering the same type of movies as before, and will add occasional art exhibits and other presentations, she added.

City authorities initially considered selling the theater to MDC because the municipality did not have enough money to finance the renovations, estimated at more than $500,000. But Carollo rejected the proposal and found part of the money from a federal Community Development Block Grant.

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