Little Havana - Flagami

Joe Carollo wants to end Viernes Culturales. Event organizers want a restraining order

A scene from Viernes Culturales, held the last Friday of every month in Domino Plaza on Calle Ocho.
A scene from Viernes Culturales, held the last Friday of every month in Domino Plaza on Calle Ocho.

A prominent Little Havana businessman is asking a federal judge for a temporary restraining order to keep Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo from hosting a party that would displace the long-established Viernes Culturales event on Calle Ocho.

Carollo applied for a special event permit earlier this month to reserve Little Havana’s iconic Domino Plaza on Nov. 30, the last Friday of the month — the same night the Viernes Culturales event has been held at that location every month for nearly two decades. The commissioner’s inaugural event, which he named Little Havana Fridays, will feature an appearance by the rapper Pitbull, according to an invitation posted on the city’s Twitter account. Carollo also asked the city’s special events department to reserve every second and last Friday of every month from now through December 2019.

According to the request for a temporary restraining order, filed in federal court on Tuesday, Carollo scheduled his event on the same night as Viernes Culturales “not because of any legitimate purpose, but as a manipulative and calculated attack” on Bill Fuller, a co-owner of the Ball & Chain nightclub and the president of Viernes Culturales.

The motion asks a federal judge to issue an order temporarily preventing Carollo from holding his event at Domino Plaza on the last Friday of every month. But by the end of business hours Friday, no court hearing had been scheduled.

“This was an intentional move by Mr. Carollo aimed at destroying Viernes Culturales/Cultural Fridays,” the motion states. The event, run by a nonprofit of the same name, features music, art and local vendors.

The request for a restraining order is the latest development in a feud between Carollo and Fuller, who recently sued the commissioner over his efforts to find code violations on properties owned by Fuller and affiliated businesses. In the lawsuit, Fuller and a business partner argue that Carollo is violating their First Amendment rights by getting code enforcement to target their businesses in retaliation for Fuller’s support of one of Carollo’s former political opponents.

The owners of Ball & Chain are suing Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo, accusing him of political retaliation in connection with a wave of code violations issued to the club.

Carollo called the allegations “the biggest bunch of baloney that I’ve ever heard of in my life.”

Although the organizers of Viernes Culturales — which was originally created with support from the city of Miami when Carollo was mayor — argue that it draws business to nearby restaurants and galleries, Carollo said the event has been “hijacked” by a small group of people who have turned it into a “glorified flea market” held in a city plaza without the required event permits. He argued that the festival has been used primarily to promote Futurama, another Fuller property on Calle Ocho.

“It’s become self-promoting for a handful of businesses only owned by them instead of promoting all of Little Havana and all of the businesses from Little Havana,” Carollo said.

Fuller and his associates don’t believe that Carollo is genuinely concerned about the future of Viernes Culturales, however. The nonprofit has invited Carollo to come to events and join board of directors meetings on multiple occasions, which the motion argues would have given Carollo an opportunity to suggest improvements.

Carollo’s former campaign adviser and district liaison, Stephen Miró, testified under oath in August that Carollo was secretly plotting to shut down Viernes Culturales because of Fuller’s involvement in the event, according to the motion. Miró testified that Carollo directed his attorney to create a competing organization to “take over” Viernes Culturales, the motion states.

Until recently, Viernes Culturales hadn’t applied for special event permits to reserve Domino Plaza and hadn’t been asked to do so by city officials, according to the motion. The nonprofit applied for a permit for its October event after learning that Carollo was planning to reserve the plaza on the same day, the motion states, and was asked to obtain permits for Viernes Culturales for the rest of the year.

When the nonprofit applied for a permit for Nov. 30, however, Viernes Culturales was informed that Domino Plaza had already been reserved by Carollo that evening.

Fuller has requested an emergency hearing on his motion for a temporary restraining order. Not only had a hearing not been scheduled by late Friday, but the court set a deadline for responding to the motion the week after Carollo’s event.

In the meantime, it’s clear that Carollo is trying to make a splash with his first Little Havana Fridays event. An invitation to the event, posted on Twitter by the city of Miami, said it would feature a performance by Pitbull and boasted that there would be “many other well-known celebrities and special guests.”

Contacted by the Miami Herald, a spokesman for Pitbull said that the rapper plans to appear at the event, but not perform.

Miami Herald staff writer Joey Flechas contributed to this report.