A controversial Puerto Rican flag mural will be painted over — but not right now

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A report by Carlos Frías for The Miami Herald.

Take your selfies with the massive mural of a Puerto Rican flag towering over east Miami while you can.

No one knows how much longer it will be there.

The Miami restaurant La Placita, which painted its three-story building to look like the Puerto Rican flag without first getting required approvals from its historic district, can keep the mural, the Miami City Commission voted Thursday night.

“Since Day One, we have said we’ve done everything with the best intentions — and today we were able to prove it,” said Julián Gil, the Latin American television star who co-owns the restaurant.

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But there’s a catch.

La Placita eventually will have to paint over it when a neighboring business, which the commission also allowed to have murals, paints over theirs.

But not even the commission that voted 3-2 in its favor knows when that will be.

And that’s because of a secret deal struck between that business and the neighborhood association for the historic MiMo District.

La Placita vote
Spanish television star Julián Gil wore his red Puerto Rico hat to Thursday’s Miami city commission meeting, when his restuarant, La Placita, was given the right to keep its three-story flag mural temporarily. Mayor Francis Suarez, right of Gil, called it a victory for Puerto Rico. 

Last June, the City Commission voted to allow four small murals at Organic Bites, less than a block from La Placita, that were painted about two years ago without first applying for a special permit from Miami’s Historic Environmental and Preservation Board, which oversees the MiMo District.

The MiMo Biscayne Association sued the city and Organic Bites in civil court in August — but it withdrew its lawsuit earlier this month when it agreed with Organic Bites to a private settlement, according to court records.

Neither side would comment on the confidential deal — even while testifying against La Placita’s mural Thursday night. (Organic Bites did not respond to a Miami Herald interview request.)

Representatives from the MiMo Biscayne Association did say their agreement states Organic Bites’ murals will come down eventually.

Commissioner Joe Carollo was the one to float the compromise Thursday, allowing La Placita to keep its mural as long as Organic Bites does.

Afterwards, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez applauded the decision. “The Puerto Rican people have suffered so much. They really needed this victory,” Suarez said. “I just felt it was the right thing to do.”

The sides had been at an impasse for more than a year.

Gil, who was raised in Puerto Rico, teamed with one of Miami’s most decorated chefs, the Puerto Rico-born José Mendín, to create the new, chef-inspired Puerto Rican restaurant.

Together, they commissioned Puerto Rico-born artist Hector Collazo Hernández to create the mural, entitled “Plantando Bandera (Staking Your Flag),” on Dec. 27, 2018.

But it was painted without first presenting the plan to Miami’s historic preservation board — and the board rejected a permit after the fact.

In November, La Placita’s owners scuttled a compromise they appeared to have reached with the city’s historic board and the MiMo business and homeowners association. They discussed creating an outline of the Puerto Rican flag in neon — a feature specific to historic MiMo buildings — but scrapped the plan as too expensive.

Meanwhile, the mural’s owners had racked up more than $65,000 in daily fines for refusing to paint over the flag.

Two days after the historical board voted to deny La Placita a permit after-the-fact to keep its mural in March 2019, the city’s code enforcement board stepped in. It found La Placita guilty of breaking the code, gave the owners 60 days to paint it over and fined them $250 a day after that.

Fines reached $65,500, according to city records.

La Placita came back to the City Commission on Dec. 12 for an up-or-down vote on keeping the mural, but the commission, late at night, voted to table the discussion until Jan. 23.

Now the mural has a tentative reprieve.

“At least it’s there for now,” Mendín said. “When the time comes, we’ll see. I thought it was a fair idea.”

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