Little Havana - Flagami

After Carollo launches event, Little Havana’s Viernes Culturales is moving to a new day

Viernes Culturales will move to the third Friday of the month, organizers of the 18-year cultural gathering announced on Monday.

The event was pushed out of its normal time slot, the last Friday of the month, when it got caught in the crossfire between Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo and Ball & Chain co-owner Bill Fuller. The pair have feuded over code enforcement issues this year. Fuller has accused Carollo of spearheading a campaign of targeted code enforcement against Ball & Chain and affiliated businesses as political retaliation for support of Carollo’s opponent in the 2017 city election. The commissioner, who has gone on late-night stakeouts to investigate violations — and identified some true issues — has said he simply wants inspectors to fairly point out code problems in his district.

The conflict spilled over to the plaza outside Domino Park on the last Friday of the month, which has been home to Viernes Culturales for years — though the longstanding event had operated without required special events permits for 18 years. Carollo’s office applied for permits for his own festival, called “Little Havana Fridays,” which launched last Friday with a large crowd there to see Pitbull speak and musical performances from Amaury Gutierrez, Noelia and on-air talent from América TeVé, one of the event’s sponsors.

Fuller, who is chairman of the board that produces Viernes Culturales, had sought a restraining order to stop Carollo’s event. The businessman is suing the commissioner in federal court over the code enforcement issues. A judge last week said he would not issue a restraining order without hearing evidence and testimony.

Now, Viernes Culturales organizers are switching dates in an effort to cool the tensions on Calle Ocho. At a press conference in Domino Plaza on Monday, Fuller took a more conciliatory tone when asked about Carollo’s event.

“Last Friday night’s event brought out many, many people to Little Havana,” he said. “I think that both events have a place in our community. I truly believe that it’s a win-win for everybody — the businesses, the residents and the people producing the festival.”

Mayor Francis Suarez, who joined Carollo on stage Friday to commemorate the new event, said on Monday he was pleased to see Viernes Culturales choosing to stay on a new night.

“I want to thank the board for doing the right thing,” he said. “I want to thank the board for sticking with Eighth Street.”

The mayor said the city would continue to support Viernes Culturales if asked. When asked about whether Viernes Culturales would have to get permits after not having them for nearly two decades, Suarez said that under his administration, any event needing a permit would be required to apply for one.

“If that is what the law requires, then that is what will be required of anyone,” he said.

A city spokesman confirmed Viernes Culturales has applied for permits for events on Dec. 21 and Jan. 18.

More than 1,500 people filled Domino Plaza and 15th Avenue across Calle Ocho on Friday, a larger crowd than usual for last-Friday gatherings. Despite a light rain, people turned out for the music, food and art festival — though some did not notice or care who had organized the party.

Some saw a difference in attendance Friday night.

“The crowd had shrunk lately,” said Lucero Vargas, who comes often to the Viernes Culturales. She sat at a high-top table outside El Cristo Restaurant late Friday, during the concert, where she said she noticed more foot traffic along Calle Ocho. She said she suspected that the buzz built up for the concert — or perhaps interest in the controversy over the feud — drew more people out than usual.

“It’s really woken up tonight,” she said.

On Monday, Viernes Culturales’ board and elected officials seemed to want to move away from the divisiveness and comparisons when they said the neighborhood will win with more activity in the plaza.

“We now have a city-sponsored program and a community-sponsored program that is all going to be building the excitement of Calle Ocho, of La Pequeña Habana, on two Fridays of the month,” said County Commissioner Eileen Higgins, whose district includes Little Havana.