The fate of the three-story Puerto Rican flag mural adorning the side of a Miami restaurant faces a crucial vote Thursday, when city commissioners will consider whether to allow the mural to remain.
A surprising alternative is under consideration: neon.
In the run-up to the vote, a community group has proposed an alternative that could keep a representation of the red, white and blue flag on the restaurant at La Placita, at Northeast 68th Street and Biscayne Boulevard, while adhering to the neighborhood’s MiMo-inspired design guidelines — a large neon outline of the flag set against a white background.
The owners of La Placita commissioned famed Puerto Rican-born artist Hector Collazo Hernández to create the mural in the weeks before the restaurant’s opening in January. The city said owners failed to apply for a permit from a board that oversees the historic MiMo District, which features a style of architecture called Miami Modern that is from the mid-1900s.
Restaurant owners challenged the city’s stance, arguing that the building — constructed in 2009 — was not built in the MiMo style. They also point out they received a special-event permit from police to paint the mural and were told the mural did not violate any other ordinances; the city says the mural needed a different permit. The permit signed by Miami police reads: “Applicant is authorized to conduct artistic painting of mural at the above listed location.”
The historic board later voted against granting an after-the-fact permit to La Placita. Owners appealed to the City Commission.
The MiMo Biscayne Association, a volunteer community organization made up of home and business owners in Miami’s only commercial historic district, has pitched painting over the mural and replacing it with neon as a way to keep the flag on La Placita, while working within the district’s rules, which allow fairly wide discretion over the use of neon signs.
Alisa Cepeda, president of the association, said the group hopes La Placita’s owners will consider the neon proposal or something like it as a compromise to resolve the permitting issue.
“We’re hoping between us, them and the city, we can come to a compromise,” she said.
Joey Cancel, La Placita’s CEO, told the Miami Herald on Wednesday morning that his team is preparing a presentation for Thursday’s meeting based on the neon proposal.
“We are working on that alternative,” Cancel said.
The proposal could mark a turning point in what has become a thorny debate among the Puerto Rican community whose members see a prominent symbol of unity and pride; historic preservationists who want property owners to adhere to the area’s design guidelines; and neighbors who complain of the traffic that comes with the new landmark.
The conversation is underscored by the political upheaval in Puerto Rico, where protesters have called for the resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló following multiple scandals that have rocked the government and incensed the island’s residents. Late Wednesday, local media reported that Rosselló’s resignation was imminent. As of Wednesday afternoon, Rosselló’s whereabouts were unknown to the public.
On July 19, La Placita served as the host of a community dialogue on how to solve the political crisis. The gathering, held in the restaurant wrapped in the flag mural, illustrated the business’s effort to serve as a home for the Puerto Rican diaspora.
The mural, entitled “Plantando Bandera (Staking Your Flag),” is part of a larger project for Hernández. In 2018, he painted large outdoor murals in each of Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities, a project called “78 Pueblos y Una Bandera.”