Coconut Grove

The plan to revamp the historic Grove Playhouse could finally get a green light

A rendering shows the restored front of the Coconut Grove Playhouse building at left with a new, freestanding 300-seat theater on the right and a new plaza at center.
A rendering shows the restored front of the Coconut Grove Playhouse building at left with a new, freestanding 300-seat theater on the right and a new plaza at center. Arquitectonica/Miami-Dade County

A long delayed Miami-Dade County plan to revamp the shuttered Coconut Grove Playhouse will face its final regulatory hurdle on Tuesday, when Miami’s historic preservation board is set to review a controversial scheme that would shrink the historic theater.

If the board approves, the county will have a full green light on its plan to reopen the storied playhouse, which closed 13 years ago after running aground financially. Under a complex 2013 lease deal with the state of Florida, which owns the theater property, the county must reopen it by 2022.

Nearly two years ago, the preservation board first approved a county proposal to restore the theater’s protected and defining 1927 Mediterranean front while replacing its massive auditorium with a new 300-seat theater. That smaller size is what would be financially and artistically viable, backers of the plan say. Some preservationists and theater lovers have fought demolition of the original auditorium, which the county says retains little architectural value.

Numerous legal and political challenges delayed the board’s vote on a final, detailed blueprint for the restoration, the new stand-alone theater and a companion garage that would replace the playhouse’s surface parking lot.

The preservation board’s hearing, originally scheduled for February, was postponed a month when city staff could not upload the project plans to board members’ computer displays on the dais because of technical issues.

The city’s preservation officer, Warren Adams, has recommended that the board approve the county proposal. Board approval is final unless someone appeals to the City Commission. That’s unlikely, however, since courts have made it harder for residents to gain legal standing to do so.

Last year, a judge overturned a Miami Commission vote that would have required a larger, 600-seat theater and preservation of the original auditorium after ruling that two Grove residents who had appealed the board’s original OK of the county plan lacked standing. The ruling also concluded the commission lacked authority to order preservation of the auditorium because the 2005 historic designation of the playhouse explicitly excluded its interior.

Over the past several months, the county plan won the endorsement of the city’s Urban Development Review Board and approval by the planning board. In December, the Knight Foundation boosted the project’s prospects by announcing a $2 million gift to supplement the $20 million earmarked by the county.

The new theater would be run by GableStage, an award-winning small company now based at the Biltmore Hotel.

Andres Viglucci covers urban affairs for the Miami Herald. He joined the Herald in 1983.
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