Food

Owners refuse to paint over massive Puerto Rican flag mural. Here’s their next move.

The Puerto Rican flag mural at La Placita has drawn much attention to this stretch of Biscayne Boulevard’s MiMo District — and not everyone is happy about it.
The Puerto Rican flag mural at La Placita has drawn much attention to this stretch of Biscayne Boulevard’s MiMo District — and not everyone is happy about it. jking@miamiherald.com

After nearly a year of haggling, it looked like finally there would be a resolution to a towering three-story mural of the Puerto Rican flag painted with patriotism — but without the appropriate permission — in a historic Miami neighborhood.

Instead, there was only confusion.

The owners of the Puerto Rican restaurant La Placita, which commissioned a famous artist to paint their building’s facade without first applying to the historic preservation board, scuttled a compromise they presented to the board Tuesday night.

The restaurant, a joint project between Spanish-language television celebrity Julián Gil and decorated Puerto Rican-born chef José Mendín, is located in the MiMo District, Miami’s only commercial district to receive historic designation.

Even color changes have to be approved by Miami’s Historic Environmental and Preservation Board in MiMo. And murals are not allowed by the district’s code. However, neon is.

So, the owners met with a community group about a proposal to create an outline of the Puerto Rican flag across the building in neon. But when La Placita’s CEO Joey Cancel presented the plan, complete with colorful renderings, at City Hall Tuesday, he told the members it would cost more than $102,000 to create the neon mural — a figure he said the owners weren’t willing to pay.

Instead, La Placita wants to keep its mural unchanged, he announced to the board members — just as he told them in March when they voted 5-3 against it. On Tuesday, they voted 8-0 to deny it.

“Just to be crystal clear: There was an order that the mural be painted over. That order stands,” the board’s vice chair, Lynn Lewis, told Cancel from dais.

Cancel said he plans to appeal directly to the city commission.

“I’m confident this has brought light to the MiMo District,” Cancel said after the meeting.

But to keep it, commissioners will have to override the city’s own code, the recommendation of the unanimous historic preservation board and other business owners and residents of the MiMo District who oppose it — some loudly at Tuesday’s meeting. La Placita’s owners have 15 days after the board’s decision is posted to file the appeal.

Plus, La Placita has been down this road already.

After being denied a permit after-the-fact to keep their mural in March, they appealed to the commission in July and were told to go back to the preservation board and find a compromise.

The owners claimed at the time — and again on Tuesday — that they thought a special event permit granted by Miami Police allowed Puerto Rican-born artist Hector Collazo Hernández to create the mural, entitled “Plantando Bandera (Staking Your Flag),” in one day on Dec. 27 of last year. In 2018, Hernández painted large outdoor murals in each of Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities, a project called “78 Pueblos y Una Bandera.”

This was to be the first on the mainland — but it clashed with the unique mix of Mediterranean Revival and Art Deco that gave rise to the MiMo historic designation. That code also helped revitalize many once-rundown motels into boutique hotels and restaurants along Biscayne Boulevard.

Miami Herald food editor Carlos Frías won the 2018 James Beard award for excellence in covering the food industry. A Miami native, he’s also the author of “Take Me With You: A Secret Search for Family in a Forbidden Cuba.”
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