Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade approves GableStage deal for Grove Playhouse

The historic Coconut Grove Playhouse
The historic Coconut Grove Playhouse MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Even Frank Underwood couldn’t foil a plan by GableStage to move to a redesigned Coconut Grove Playhouse.

Miami-Dade commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved allowing the Coral Gables nonprofit to run a 300-seat theater in the Grove playhouse, a plan complicated by a rival group’s proposal to add a second, larger theater featuring Kevin Spacey as, potentially, creative director. The actor, who plays devious President Underwood in Netflix’s House of Cards, made a quiet trip to County Hall earlier this year about the Playhouse, but so far is keeping quiet about his designs on the state-owned theater in the Grove’s entertainment district.

Despite the Hollywood backstory, the GableStage agreement passed with little drama before the county commission. The nonprofit currently produces plays in a 150-seat theater at the Biltmore Hotel, and would leave Coral Gables for Coconut Grove once the tax-funded redo of the Playhouse site is finished.

“We have a long track record of artistic excellence,” GableStage director Joseph Adler told commissioners. He said GableStage will change its name and create a “regional theater that truly involves the South Florida theater community.”

Any revival of the Grove Playhouse remains years away, and the Spacey option is still a possibility. Commissioners on Tuesday also approved hiring Arquitectonica, a Grove architectural firm, to create a master design plan for the state-owned Playhouse property. The instructions include exploring the option of adding a 700-seat theater for the group aligned with Spacey to manage.

Mike Eidson, chairman of the county’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, is the leading champion of adding a 700-seat theater for Spacey at the Grove Playhouse. But he has hit resistance from the administration of Mayor Carlos Gimenez, which sees the expansion as jeopardizing both the Playhouse’s $20 million construction budget and a carefully worded lease agreement with Florida for Florida International University to oversee the state-owned theater.

A 2004 bond referendum gave Miami-Dade authority to borrow $15 million against property taxes for the Playhouse reconstruction, and another $5 million would come from hotel taxes. In a March 10 memo, Gimenez said a private group would need to raise the funds to design, build and operate any larger theater that Miami-Dade chose to approve.

“We understand Kevin Spacey may be interested in serving as an artistic consultant paid solely by this entity,” Gimenez wrote in the memo to County Commissioner Xavier Suarez, whose district includes Coconut Grove and who is Eidson’s ally in the Playhouse effort.

Michael Spring, the Gimenez deputy who oversees cultural affairs, said he met with Spacey twice: once over breakfast at Green Street Cafe a short walk from the Playhouse, and once in December when the actor took the elevator to Spring’s County Hall office. But the talks didn’t convince Spring to back the two-theater plan, and Eidson said a recent meeting with Spring convinced him to shelve his proposal for now.

“I didn’t see anything else we could do at that point,” Eidson told the Miami Herald last week. “So the best thing for us to do is wait and see what’s going to happen.”

Spacey recently departed from a celebrated tenure as artistic director of London’s Old Vic theater, and he’s said to be interested in a similar role in Coconut Grove. Spring said the actor was accompanied in meetings by David Martin, a developer building a luxury condo complex overlooking the Grove waterfront.

Eidson did not attend Tuesday’s meeting. Max Pearl, a Playhouse activist who supports Eidson’s plan, did address commissioners and urged them not to dismiss Spacey and the star power he could bring to the project.

“This opportunity is only going to come around once,” he said.

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