Owners of a restaurant with a three-story mural of the Puerto Rican flag on its façade will have to come up with a new design and take it back to the Miami Historic and Environmental Preservation Board for approval, the Miami City Commission said Thursday night.
Although some commissioners at times sounded sympathetic to the idea of leaving up La Placita’s mural, a majority of them said they want the façade of the building to comply with the code for the historic MiMo District — and the flag doesn’t.
It was a letdown for the restaurant owners, who did go through a city permitting process that later turned out to be the wrong one. In the meantime, they had commissioned Hector Collazo Hernández, a prominent Puerto Rico-born artist, to paint the mural, a bold red-white and blue representation of the flag that wraps around the Biscayne Boulevard building. But the mural violates the code because it doesn’t use the historic color palette required of buildings in the district that features structures in the Miami Modern style.
In March, the Miami Historic and Environmental Preservation Board, a body tasked with overseeing changes to properties of major significance such as the ones within the MiMo District, voted against granting the restaurant a permit after-the-fact. The restaurant appealed, causing the decision to come before the City Commission Thursday after being moved from previous agendas twice.
The restaurant’s mural has led to a resurgence of visitors to the MiMo District and La Placita, said Joey Cancel, CEO and president of La Placita.
“We’ve just created a tourist attraction,” Cancel told commissioners Thursday. “You can see how many people from all over the world [come] to take a picture,” Cancel said as he clicked through a presentation of photos captured by visitors in front of the mural.
Commissioner Manolo Reyes echoed the sentiment.
“It has become a destination point that it is fostering economic development in the area,” Reyes said. “I think we can allow them to keep the building the way it is because people are coming.”
Commissioners Ken Russell and Keon Hardemon were sympathetic but remained adamant that the restaurant must comply with the historic district’s code.
“I think there are times when there are exceptions that have to be made, but they probably should be along with what you’d expect of that space,” Hardemon said. “This stands out.”
Cancel showed commissioners an alternative, although it would have to be taken back to the preservation board for approval: a retro rendering of the Puerto Rican flag including aluminum paneling.
That new alternative came a day after the MiMo Biscayne Association, a local community preservation group, made another recommendation: replacing the mural with neon lights in the shape and color of the Puerto Rican flag, against a white background.
“We’re not opposed to going toward that direction to offer positive solutions ... but there’s some challenges when it comes to that type of rendering,” Cancel said of the neon-only alternative. “It’s only a rendering for night vision ... so we need to evaluate something that works at night time but also day.”
Cancel said the restaurant hired a professional permit expediter who was directed to apply for a permit within the police department’s special events unit. That permit was granted. But the project also needed a certificate of appropriateness from the preservation board. Leaving the mural with two problems: It doesn’t have the right permit, and it doesn’t comply with the code.
Discussion included a tense back and forth between Russell and Commissioner Joe Carollo over the optics of approving a mural that’s gained immense popularity, even from some city officials, despite the code violation.
City leaders questioned how the permit approval got mixed up and why owners weren’t directed to go through the proper channels.
“We can’t run a city like this,” Carollo said. “We’re putting stuff out to people that give the code a different impression. We have so many laws and regulations, and citizens don’t know.”
La Placita representatives will have 60 days to apply to the Historic Environmental and Preservation Board for a new certificate of appropriateness, giving them the opportunity to present the board with the new alternatives. The restaurant will receive a code compliance citation because the painted mural is not in compliance, said Francisco Garcia, city planning director..
If the preservation board rules against the alternative, La Placita will be able to appeal to the commission again.
After Thursday’s decision, Cancel said the restaurant would comply with the direction from the commission.
“We submitted ourselves to the process,” Cancel said. “We’re going to comply with what the commission decided.”