City and county spar: Mayor Suarez’s veto of Coconut Grove Playhouse plan stands

Miami-Dade County likely to sue city of Miami to reverse denials of proposed theater restoration project
By Francisco Alvarado | May 23, 2019 02:30PM

Francis X. Suarez and Carlos Gimenez with Coconut Grove Playhouse

Francis X. Suarez and Carlos Gimenez with Coconut Grove Playhouse

The fate of the Coconut Grove Playhouse revival plan could now head to the courts.

The Miami City Commission on Thursday failed to overturn Mayor Francis Suarez’s veto that had thrown the renovation project proposed by Miami-Dade County into peril. County officials, led by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, said the county will likely sue the city to nullify a previous Miami Historic and Environmental Preservation Board decision and the veto that rejected Miami-Dade’s proposal.

Near the end of a contentious hearing that lasted close to three hours, Gimenez and Suarez sparred over the fate of the historic theater, which has remained shuttered for the past 13 years. “We are ready to go,” Gimenez said. “Any delays will cost us one to three years. If we don’t finish the project, the state will likely take it back.”

Suarez accused Gimenez and county officials of misleading the public that Miami-Dade has fully funded the $23 million restoration project. “The county’s plan contemplates $9 million from the Miami Parking Authority and the Coconut Grove Business Improvement District,” Suarez said. “The entirety of the county’s plan is predicated on the MPA and the city [funding] the restoring of the southern and eastern facades. Five-and-half years after the lease was given to the county, nothing happened.”

The county’s proposal has been in the works for six years under a lease agreement with the state, which owns the theater. Miami-Dade wants to restore the playhouse’s wing-shaped Mediterranean facade while demolishing the auditorium behind it. In its place, the county would build a smaller, stand-alone theater, as well as an adjacent parking garage to be operated by the Miami Parking Authority.

The county filed an appeal to overturn a historic preservation board vote rejecting the demolition. Earlier this month, the city commission voted 3-2 to reverse the board’s decision. Then Suarez vetoed the city commission, the first time he’s done so since he was elected in November 2017.

In his May 17 veto message, Suarez said the city has a duty to preserve historic properties like the 1927 theater. “The county’s plan that cannibalizes the historic structure will not meet my approval,” Suarez wrote. “But a revised proposal that begins the process…by beginning with the parking lot construction immediately and restoring the facade would meet my prompt approval.”