The Real Deal Miami

Plaza landmarking saves playhouse building

By Dan Weil | November 13, 2008 12:37PM

After more than four hours of discussion, the Palm Beach town council voted 3 to 2 yesterday to designate the 11.2-acre plaza that houses Royal Poinciana Playhouse as a landmark. That decision means the playhouse building won’t be torn down, but it doesn’t guarantee that it will continue to house a theater.

The outlook is sunny for the theater, but nothing is etched in stone, as the developer could sue to challenge the decision, or may choose to move the theater out of the building.

The 50-year-old theater hosted Broadway productions in its glory days before fading to black four years ago.

The developer, Sterling Organization, has an estimated $100 million plan to redevelop the island’s Royal Poinciana Plaza, which includes the playhouse. Sterling wanted to tear down the 850-seat theater, except for its decorative façade, and replace it with a waterfront park.
In addition to the shuttered theater, the plaza now contains offices, some of which remain vacant, a handful of shops and several restaurants. Sterling plans to add condominiums, restaurants, a parking garage and a new 350-seat theater when it revamps the area.
The Palm Beach Theater Guild, which boasts actor Christopher Plummer on its board of trustees, wants to save the John Volk-designed theater. The Palm Beach Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to designate the 12-acre plaza an official landmark.

Rick Gonzalez, a local architect who is on the board of Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, thought the theater should be saved.

“The best mixed-use projects are those anchored by a historic structure — like Faneuil Hall in Boston and Union Station in Washington, D.C.” he told The Real Deal. “The theater is like the head of a body. Destroying it would be like chopping off the head of a gazelle and replacing it with the head of a donkey.”