Coconut Grove Playhouse: The Politics Are in Place, But The Money's Still Missing
It's been a good week for voting on historic properties. On Thursday, Miami City Commissioners voted to approve plans to restore the long-neglected Miami Marine Stadium. And yesterday, commissioners approved another deal, this one to save the Coconut Grove Playhouse, which has fallen into ruin after closing its doors in 2006.
The deal would allow Miami-Dade County and FIU to lease the playhouse from the state of Florida, which reclaimed it last year under a clause requiring the property to be used for live performances.
But after the lease is signed, the county has just three months to settle the playhouse's many debts -- including a claim by Aries Group, a developer that once claimed it lent over $2 million to the playhouse board.
According to the Miami Herald, political support for the plan to save the playhouse is strong. Governor Rick Scott and his cabinet could review the deal as soon as August, well in time to meet the state-imposed deadline of Oct. 15 to sign the lease. Miami-Dade cultural affairs director Michael Spring told the Herald that "This is a big moment for renewed optimism."
But signing the lease means the beginning of another countdown: just 90 says to settle the financial troubles critics say playhouse board members left behind. Those include the claims of Aries Group, in addition to $216,000 in building code fines from the City of Miami; $200,000 in other types of city fines; $26,000 in back taxes; and $54,000 in additional debt. The county has earmarked $20 million for the property, but that money must be used for physical restoration, not to settle its debts.
City commissioner Marc Sarnoff has promised to work to forgive the $416,000 in city fines if the lease is approved, Spring told the Herald. But if Aries Group maintains that it's owed $2 million, that's just one small step toward financial solvency. And 90 days isn't much time to talk a businessman out of a seven-figure sum. If the debts can't be cleared within the 90 day period, the state of Florida is required to sell the playhouse to the highest bidder.
So, uh, fingers crossed?
Follow Ciara LaVelle on Twitter @ciaralavelle.