Miami-Dade County wins lawsuit over Coconut Grove Playhouse partial demolition

Judges cited “troubling” emails sent to Miami’s mayor that presumably prejudiced him

Miami /
Apr.April 15, 2021 06:00 PM
The Coconut Grove Playhouse and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez (Phillip Pessar/Flickr, Getty)

The Coconut Grove Playhouse and Miami Mayor Francis Suarez (Phillip Pessar/Flickr, Getty)

A plan to partly demolish and renovate the historic Coconut Grove Playhouse is back in play, after a court struck Miami Mayor Francis Suarez’s veto of the project.

Miami-Dade County wants to build a 300-seat theater that would incorporate elements of the original 1927 auditorium and restore the facade. The playhouse has a city historic designation and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

In its ruling, a circuit court appellate panel cited “troubling” emails between Suarez and several preservationists sent to him before his May 2019 veto. The emails “addressed the justification for and substance” of the veto message and “are presumed to be prejudicial,” violating the county’s due process, Judge Lisa Walsh wrote in the April 7 opinion.

In one email, Coral Gables-based architect Richard Heisenbottle attached a draft veto message. It’s unknown whether Suarez incorporated Heisenbottle’s proposed language as the attachment wasn’t in court filings, Walsh wrote.

Suarez, who had flagged the emails and forwarded them to his attorney, didn’t return a request for comment. Miami City Attorney Victoria Méndez said the city will ask the court to clarify its opinion.

Heisenbottle said it’s “preposterous” the court reopened the door to the playhouse’s auditorium demolition just because a constituent wrote an email to the mayor. “They offer no proof that the mayor, in the formation of his veto, ever referred to the content of my email,” he said.

Heisenbottle called on Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava to drop the lawsuit and for a complete “change in direction.” Levine Cava didn’t return a request for comment. The county’s proposal was initiated under former Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez. The county and Florida International University lease the property from the state.

Heisenbottle has been at the forefront of preservationists’ fight to restore the original sky-blue, Mediterranean Revival playhouse at 3500 Main Highway into what the preservationists call “the Broadway of the South.” The playhouse was designed by Kiehnel and Elliott architecture firm, and Robert Browning Parker renovated and redesigned it in 1955, with a Modern twist. Preservationists view the county’s plan as a development project and not a restoration.

The court ruling is the latest in a saga that dates to 2017 when the county first applied for its project.

City staff at the time – wrongly – signed off on the proposal as the city report was incorrect in saying that only the facades require preservation, Walsh wrote in the ruling. A Miami preservation officer’s report issued in 2005 had deemed the facades as architecturally significant but added that the entire building is historic.

The Miami Historic and Environmental Preservation Board in March 2019 shot down the county’s proposal, but the city commission overrode the historic board’s decision and approved the county’s plan.

Then in May 2019, Suarez vetoed the commission’s approval. The commission failed to overturn his decision, as a supermajority vote is needed to override a veto.

The following June, Miami-Dade filed its petition to the Miami-Dade Circuit Court appellate division to nullify the veto. The appellate division dismissed the county’s lawsuit. But the county then appealed to a higher court, the Third District Court of Appeals, which reversed the lower court’s dismissal.






    Related Articles

    arrow_forward_ios
    William Patrick McDowell, Camille Roxanne McDowell and Palazzo Del Sol. (Getty, Palazzo Del Sol)
    Multifamily real estate honchos buy second Fisher Island condo for $7M
    Multifamily real estate honchos buy second Fisher Island condo for $7M
    The Estate Companies Principal Jeff Ardizon and Managing Principal Robert Suris with a rendering of the project. (Estate)
    Estate Companies scores $76M construction loan for North Miami Beach apartments
    Estate Companies scores $76M construction loan for North Miami Beach apartments
    Dusko Bruer pictured with one of his yachts and his Lake Worth property. (Facebook via Bruer, Southern District of Florida | United States District Court)
    Palm Beach County resident who evaded taxes, splurged on Lake Worth Beach manse, sentenced
    Palm Beach County resident who evaded taxes, splurged on Lake Worth Beach manse, sentenced
    10688 Northwest 12th Street in Doral (Google Maps, iStock)
    Bill Seidle’s Nissan dealership buys Doral building for $16M
    Bill Seidle’s Nissan dealership buys Doral building for $16M
    Mayor Francis Suarez (Getty, iStock)
    Tibor Hollo, Pam Liebman and Housing Trust Group latest to donate to Miami mayor’s campaign
    Tibor Hollo, Pam Liebman and Housing Trust Group latest to donate to Miami mayor’s campaign
    9455 Northwest 40th Street Road in Doral (Google Maps)
    Cold-storage to classrooms: School pays $13M for Doral warehouse, retrofitting as campus
    Cold-storage to classrooms: School pays $13M for Doral warehouse, retrofitting as campus
    1260 Washington Avenue and 1234 Washington Avenue with Location Ventures CEO Rishi Kapoor (Google Maps, Location Ventures)
    Location Ventures buys South Beach office, retail property for $20M
    Location Ventures buys South Beach office, retail property for $20M
    Regalia condominium tower at 19575 Collins Avenue in Sunny Isles Beach (Google Maps)
    Regalia association scores $18M settlement in construction defects lawsuit
    Regalia association scores $18M settlement in construction defects lawsuit
    arrow_forward_ios

    The Deal's newsletters give you the latest scoops, fresh headlines, marketing data, and things to know within the industry.

    Loading...