Coconut Grove Playhouse/Miami, FL

A state take over is only hope for those attempting to save the historic theatre.

Dennis Wilhelm

The Miami Herald

Saturday March 03, 2010

State may take ownership of Coconut Grove Playhouse
The Miami City Commission has asked the state to take ownership of the Coconut Grove Playhouse and transfer it to a new board.

What seemed like an almost-done deal — bringing back a smaller version of Miami’s historic Coconut Grove Playhouse with GableStage producing theater there — may not happen at all if a resolution just passed by the Miami City Commission spurs action from the state of Florida.

Chairman Marc Sarnoff, who lives in Coconut Grove and represents it on the commission, introduced legislation asking the state to take back ownership of the theater, which has sat unused for four years, then transfer it to a new board of directors.

The action — which was not on the commission’s agenda and was introduced three minutes before the end of Thursday’s meeting — blindsided key people involved with the theater, including current board chair Shelly Spivack, Miami-Dade cultural affairs director Michael Spring and GableStage artistic director Joseph Adler, who would run the playhouse if his theater’s board reaches a final agreement with the current board.

“I found out this morning after someone on my staff saw it on a blog,” Spring said Friday. “As far as we’re concerned, we’re moving forward with our plan, with the goal of having an operating agreement with GableStage by the beginning of the summer. We still believe GableStage is the answer to great theater in Coconut Grove. I’m happy the city realizes the importance of the playhouse, even if the strategy differs.”

Sarnoff’s resolution asks the state to exercise the reverter clause in the 2004 quit claim deed that transferred ownership of the theater and its surrounding property to Coconut Grove Playhouse LLC.

Among the deed’s requirements: The playhouse property can be used only for theater, theatrical productions, theatrical education or related arts uses. If the property isn’t used for that purpose, after 30 days it automatically reverts to the state. The theater, whose board is still trying to resolve the $4 million in debt that led to its abrupt closure, hasn’t operated in nearly four years.

Sarnoff’s measure had not yet made its way to the state level Friday afternoon. Kevin Cate, a spokesman for Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, said, “We’ll review the resolution as soon as we receive it.”

“The state isn’t compelled to do anything, but it would be hard-pressed not to respond,” Sarnoff said Friday. “The resolution asks the cabinet to reverse the deed back to the state, and then convey it to a new entity with fundraising capability.”

That entity — a not-for-profit corporation called The Grove Playhouse Theatre Inc. — already has a suggested board of directors: philanthropist Kirk Landon, Ransom-Everglades School head Ellen Moceri, Miami City Manager Carlos Migoya, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, attorney Scott Silver, Miami Commissioner Carlos Gimenez and Sarnoff.

Spivack, who was at a scheduled playhouse meeting with Spring, Adler and others when she got news of the resolution, said Friday, “I am terribly disappointed in the city and surprised. We have a plan . . . to bring quality professional regional theater to Coconut Grove and to revitalize the property. Until I am told otherwise, we are the Coconut Grove Playhouse.”

Though Adler said he’s unsure of the impact of the commission’s action, he said, “Our goals are the same. We just want to bring great theater back to the Grove.”

David Collins, executive director of the Coconut Grove Business Improvement District, expressed enthusiastic support for Sarnoff’s measure. In financially hard-hit Coconut Grove, he said, the shuttered theater has been very bad news for many businesses.

“For four years now, what has been the economic engine of the Grove has been this shrouded, empty building on Main Highway,” Collins said. “I see Marc Sarnoff on a white horse on this issue. It’s incredible that someone finally had the guts to require that the state revert it. The issue that’s killing us in the Grove is the playhouse. . . . This board has not fulfilled its responsibility. Please, let’s try a different board.”

Spring, who noted that he has been “in close communication with the Department of State” throughout the years that the playhouse has been closed, doesn’t believe that there are grounds for the state to reclaim the property.

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  1. thomas davis

    I WAS CO- FOUNDER & PRES OF “FRIENDS OF THE C.G. PLAYHOUSE” in 1976-1978 the only year it was profitable. OUR group received HISTORIC status, WE WOULD LIKE TO HELP AGAIN. Please contact TIDE Ferrari Racing [561] 635 9447; Tom Davis, p.o. box 3115 Palm Beach, Fl. 33480 e-mail P.S. HELP,” SAVE THE MIAMI MARINE STADIUM!”

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