The Foundation envisions a fully-restored historic Coconut Grove Playhouse that operates as a true regional theater, is managed by the best and brightest theater professionals from across the nation, supports the local economy and engages the community through first-rate programming and a robust, in-house arts conservatory.
Built in 1926, the Coconut Grove Playhouse hosted some of America’s most notable theatrical performers and productions over the ensuing decades, including the world premiere of Tennessee Williams’ “Sweet Bird of Youth”, the U.S. premiere of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” and even a taping of “The Late Show with David Letterman”.
The Playhouse closed its doors in 2006, a victim of poor governance and oversight. Today, the Playhouse Foundation stands ready to return this local cultural treasure to its past glory.
The Coconut Grove Theater opens as a movie house designed by Architects Kiehnel and Elliot in the popular Mediterranean Revival style.
Businessman George Engle buys the building, hiring architect Alfred Browning Parker to convert it into a live theater venue. The Coconut Grove Playhouse opens with the US premiere of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” in the same year as Tennessee Williams’ world premiere of “Sweet Bird of Youth.”
Arnold Mittelman succeeds Academy Award winning actor Jose Ferrer as Artistic Director of the Playhouse, a position he will maintain until 2006. During this period, Pulitzer-prize winning playwright Edward Albee staged several plays at the Playhouse and renown actors who grace the stage included Liza Minelli, Jessica Tandy, and Denzel Washington.
As part of the County-wide $2.9B Building Better Communities General Obligation Bond, the Coconut Grove Playhouse, Inc successfully secures $15 million for the “reconstruction of the Coconut Grove Playhouse to restore its structural integrity and add to its performance and educational capabilities.”
Supporting documentation sites that its Operating Budget FY 2003-2004 stood at $5.3 million and it served at audience of over 150,000 at their 1100-seat main stage theater and 135-seat “Encore Room.” Coconut Grove restaurants attribute as much as 40% of their business from Playhouse audiences.
Coconut Grove Playhouse, Inc, the operator of the site, which had also become its owner after being conveyed the property from the State of Florida was vetted and endorsed for this funding through Miami-Dade County’s Department of Cultural Affairs. They also pledged to match the funding with $10 million in private sector donations.
The City of Miami’s Historic and Environmental Preservation Board approves historic designation status for the Coconut Grove Playhouse site. Miami-Dade County approves an additional $5 million from its Convention Development Tax towards “the reconstruction and expansion to the Coconut Grove Playhouse to remedy structural deficiencies and improve the programmatic capabilities of the theater.”
Coconut Grove Playhouse, Inc experiences a cash flow shortage which forces it to close its doors in May 2006 with approximately $4 million in debt, a property asset valued at $10-15 million, and access to $20 million in County funds.
At the expense of the County’s Department of Cultural Affairs, AMS Planning & Research is contracted to develop a recovery plan with mid and long-term strategies. AMS recommends that the Coconut Grove Playhouse be rehabilitated into a two-theater venue with a 600-seat full stage and 200-300 seat smaller theater. They also recommend the Playhouse partner an educational institution of higher learning.
Mr. Manny Diaz, Mayor of Miami, and Commissioner Marc Sarnoff petition the Adrienne Arsht Center to help reopen, program, and manage the Coconut Grove Playhouse. The Arsht Center declines responsibility for the reconstruction phase but advises that the main stage theater be 600 – 750 seats.
The Board of Directors of the Coconut Grove Playhouse with the Miami-Dade Department of Cultural Affairs commission the University of Miami’s Center for Urban and Community Design to conduct a charrette “to identify design strategies that could catalyze the western end of the Grove and to re-establish a cultural anchor while respecting the history and ambiance of historic Coconut Grove.” Steering committee members included architect Jorge L. Hernandez, Director of Cultural Affairs Michael Spring, and Playhouse Board members Shelly Spivack and Jorge Luis Lopez.
The charrette’s concluding vision recommended that the Coconut Grove Playhouse be rehabilitated into a two-theater facility with a 600-seat main stage theater and 200-300 seat smaller venue, and multiple design schematics were developed.
The Coconut Grove Playhouse Board of Directors, led by chairwoman Shelly Spivack and attorney Jorge Luis Lopez, presents a recovery plan a recovery plan to Miami-Dade County selecting GableStage as their “theater partner to advance development of a 300-seat theatre on the site.” The Board offers to convey the property to the County with the requirement that the Operating Agreement with GableStage remain in place and County funds be directed towards “the development of a theater with approximately 250-300 seats.”
The Department of Cultural Affairs supports this action, endorsing the proposal to commence designing the new construction of a 300-seat theater on the site in consultation with GableStage as its future operator with County funds. The Department further proposes to “work to assess and develop a plan to transfer title of the property to GableStage.”
City of Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado and District 2 Commissioner Marc Sarnoff express their opposition to this plan in a letter to County Mayor Alvarez and the Board of County Commissioners dated May 25, 2010, instead urging the County to allow the property to be reverted to the State of Florida who could then re-convey it to a State University/College to operate as a multi-use facility.
Unable to resolve the encumbrances to convey the property to the County, the Playhouse Board allows the State of Florida to invoke a clause reverting ownership to the State’s Department of Environmental Protection in hopes that the State could then transfer title to the County.
State law requires it to first offer the property for lease to its universities, then community colleges, then state agencies. Only if none of those groups were interested, could the State offer the property at market value to the County. Negotiations with FIU and the County as co-lessees begin.
Miami-Dade County and FIU enter into a joint lease agreement with the State of Florida for 99 years to use the property as a cultural facility to be managed and operated by GableStage, who would partner with FIU to develop an educational component. The County also entered into an Operating Agreement with the Miami Parking Authority as the designated operator of parking on the site.
Following a competitive selection process, the County contracts a team led by local firm Arquitectonica and including historic preservationist Jorge L. Hernandez to develop a master site plan comprising one or two theaters and a parking garage, but designing only one theater with a potential capacity ranging from 300-600 seats.
Miami-Dade County enters into a 99-year lease agreement with GableStage to manage and operate a 300-seat theater on the Playhouse site. The Business Plan developed by the Department of Cultural Affairs submitted to the State of Florida and the Board of County Commissioners provides that net profit generated from parking or rental income on the site be directed in perpetuity towards GableStage, ensuring its financial sustainability. The County also began to negotiate an agreement with the Coconut Grove Playhouse Foundation to build and operate 600-900 seat theater with supporting facilities.
The City of Miami’s Historic and Environmental Preservation Board passes a resolution supporting the Playhouse’s nomination to the National Historic Register.
Coconut Grove Village Council also passes a resolution supporting the Playhouse’s nomination to the National Historic Register.
The Coconut Grove Civic Club places a State Historical Marker on the Playhouse property.
The Miami Commission hears the appeal by Coconut Grove residents Barbara Lange and Katrina Morris to the City of Miami’s Historic and Environmental Preservation Board decision granting a Certificate of Appropriateness to Miami-Dade County for its plan to demolish the majority of the existing, historic Playhouse structure.
Commissioners vote to preserve the entire exterior of the Playhouse structure and require that the owner of the Playhouse protect and restore the Solomonic Columns, Proscenium Arches, and Cherubs of the Playhouse’s interior.
Commissioners also vote to support a 600-seat theatre in line with the previous operations for the Playhouse, which made it a renowned and celebrated facility—contingent on the ability of the Foundation to raise private funds needed to complete the more impactful project.
The Coconut Grove Playhouse Foundation is a diverse group of local residents, arts patrons, preservationists, and community advocates committed to restoring the historic Coconut Grove Playhouse to its past greatness and putting it back on the national theatrical map.
Our plan returns the Coconut Grove Playhouse to its stature as one of the finest theaters in the world. It completely restores the 1925 historically designated building with 700 seats—not just the front as the County wants to do. Saving the front of a building is meaningless. It enlarges the old Encore Room second stage with 200 seats that can be used for workshops and local theater companies. And finally it includes a wonderful educational and community building which can be used for training and performances of dance, theater, music, video and for other purposes. This new building contains classrooms and fantastic performance spaces.
After 12 years of decay, our plan elevates Coconut Grove Playhouse to the focal point of culture and entertainment in the City of Miami and Miami-Dade County. New plays and dance will be produced there which can be sent to Broadway or on national tours. While honoring the past, our plan completely changes the complexion of Coconut Grove creating a new entity for the performing arts with a 100 year vision. It remains true to its roots in completely restoring not a front but the large historic building that has been the landmark of Coconut Grove for over 90 years. Our goal is to preserve, protect and honor the building and the great entertainment that was presented and created there for decades and to upgrade the educational and community opportunities at the Playhouse.
The Foundation’s plan centers on fully restoring and preserving the historic Playhouse building, including the many significant architectural features of its beautiful façade and interior spaces.
Specific components of the plan are:
– A 700-seat main theatre and a smaller black-box studio theater featuring the latest audiovisual technology
– A professionally-managed theater company that produces original, large-scale productions and co-productions with top theater companies from around the world
– Onsite conservatory facilities dedicated to training future generations of actors and artists with programming dedicated to a variety of genres, including: music, dance, theatre and visual arts
– And a parking garage screened off by conservatory studios and Grove-friendly ancillary spaces
To view our plan presentation click this link: COCONUT GROVE PLAYHOUSE FOUNDATION PLAN
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