On Tuesday, November 7, 2017, there will be a historic board meeting to discuss the future of the Coconut Grove Playhouse a Miami City Hall (3500 Pan American Drive, Miami, Florida). There have been other public meetings to discuss Miami-Dade County’s $20 million plan to revive the iconic theater (see new designs for the Coconut Grove Playhouse). Debates over the scope of the project have been heated so far. See excerpts from the Miami Herald below.
A passionately split audience both praised and panned new designs for the Coconut Grove Playhouse in a drawn-out public meeting Thursday that largely rehashed longstanding debates over the scope of Miami-Dade County’s $20 million plan to revive the iconic theater.
While there was little consensus among the 120 or so people at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium, county cultural affairs director Michael Spring said the administration intends to move forward with the complex, long-in-the-works plan. Under the quickest scenario, the extensive revamp would take at least two-and-a-half years, he said. But, pledged architect Bernardo Fort-Brescia, whose Grove-based Arquitectonica leads a team designing the playhouse redevelopment: “The building will come back to life in color, detail and architecture.”
How precisely that might happen was the bone of some contention Thursday evening. The county plan calls for fully restoring the cherished three-story, Mediterranean-style wing-shaped playhouse building that defines the corner of Main Highway and Charles Avenue. At the same time, the historic theater’s 1,100-seat auditorium would be demolished and replaced with a new, and much smaller, state-of-the art stand-alone theater building designed in a contemporary style. Under that plan, the Miami Parking Authority would finance and build a 65-foot garage, fronted with condos or apartments, on the playhouse’s parking lot to serve both the new theater and surrounding Grove businesses. The restored playhouse building and garage would have restaurants and shops on the ground floor, and revenue from parking and commercial rents would go to support the theater’s operations.
Skeptics argued that the accompanying development threatens to overwhelm the site, reducing the theater to “an afterthought,” as Cheryl Levine Pappas, who worked at the old playhouse, put it. Some continued to challenge the shrinking of the theater to 300 seats — the size that county officials and their theatrical consultants say is economically and artistically feasible given the budget and the difficulty in drawing paying customers to live theater in Miami. Mired in debt, the state-owned playhouse closed abruptly 11 years ago.
Some preservationists and playhouse fans said demolishing the theater’s rear, and thus the stage on which legendary productions such as the U.S. debut of “Waiting for Godot” took place, amounts to bowdlerizing a historic and irreplaceable cultural landmark.
“There is a vibe in this theater,” said Grove folk-rock legend Bobby Ingram, who worked for decades backstage in local theaters and performing-arts centers and once worked the sound for a concert by pal Jimmy Buffett at the playhouse. “It’s been neglected by design. This building could be restored. This is just more new stuff coming into Coconut Grove. Coconut Grove could use less new stuff and much more of the old stuff.” [. . .]