Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet on Tuesday approved a joint plan by Florida International University and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez to salvage and reopen the historic Coconut Grove Playhouse as a working regional theater.
The approval now triggers a tight deadline for FIU, the county and the state to sign a formal lease for the state-owned theater while clearing several outstanding debts and claims on the property. If that doesn’t happen by Jan. 15, the state is required by ironclad rules to put the property up for sale to the highest bidder.
One of the biggest claims is about $500,000 in mounting fines for building code violations from the city of Miami. Commission Chairman Marc Sarnoff told Scott and the cabinet that the city is willing to “do away’’ with the fines and a city lien once the deal is formally inked.
Scott and cabinet members, meeting at Miami-Dade College’s downtown Wolfson Campus, praised the deal, which doesn’t require state funding. The state last year re-took ownership of the 1927 theater from a non-profit group that closed it abruptly in 2006 amid mounting debt and administrative disarray.
Scott called the plan “a one-of-a-kind educational opportunity’’ in a statement issued after the unanimous vote.
Under the plan, the county would rebuild the deteriorated 1927 Mediterranean Revival theater, considered an architectural and cultural landmark, using $20 million in previously approved bond and bed-tax money. GableStage, a leading company now based at the Biltmore Hotel, would program, run and maintain the playhouse as a professional regional theater.
FIU’s theater program, meanwhile, would partner with GableStage to provide its students with training and hands-on experience in acting, directing, set and costume design and technical aspects of theatrical production.
The county is also exploring an alternative idea to have the state simply cede ownership of the theater, perhaps as part of a land exchange, in place of a lease agreement, Florida and Miami-Dade officials said.