Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Paper Chase

It seems there's some action occurring around the Coconut Grove Playhouse; the county is going after the deed.

The first story appeared July 21 in The Coconut Grove Grapevine, covering commissioner Marc Sarnoff's address to the Village of Center Grove meeting.  He reported that squatters were living in the playhouse.  And that's not all:
Sarnoff said that the current board, lead by Shelly Spivak, has not met for over three years, in fact, when he asked Shelly to come down to speak about the playhouse, her reply was something like, "You want me to drive all the way down from Broward for that?"
The story goes on to tell us that the City will be attempting to use a reverter clause.  In short, because the deed states that the property is to be used to present theatre, and no theatre has been produced for three years, the property should revert back to the City.

A week later, this past Thursday, The Grapevine followed up on the story, reporting that a letter went out to the current Playhouse Board demanding transfer of the title to Miami-Dade County.
Here you will find a letter that is going out today regarding the Coconut Grove Playhouse. It is in response to the legislation that State Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera sponsored and passed this past legislative session.
The Grapevine also offered this tidbit:
One extra update on the previous story: Shelly Spivak, who heads the current board, says that she was never asked to come and speak to anyone about the playhouse in the last few years. She says she was never asked and she never declined to meet.
It's hard to know who to believe; Sarnoff has been caught telling some whoppers, but it's hard to put much faith in anything that Spivak says, at this point.  Best to take anything either of them says with a grain of salt, from here on out.

On Friday, The Miami Herald picked up the story, talking with the DEP, DCA, and other concerned parties.  From Michael Spring, director of the DCA:
“I hope that it accelerates the conversations that are happening here in clearing the title,” Spring said. “One could say there is now a ticking clock.”
Also on Friday, The Miami Herald's Editorial Board weighed in:
At the very least, the threat of a state takeover should command the attention of all the theater’s stakeholders — its board, developers looking to transform the property, arts advocates and community residents — to get this venue working again.
And, so far, Joe Adler and GableStage are still in the picture:
According to Michael Spring, head of Miami-Dade County’s Department of Cultural Affairs, the county is more than willing to take over the playhouse, preserving its role as a theater while also ensuring it can produce revenue. Better still, Mr. Spring envisions moving the award-winning
GableStage into the Playhouse — a fabulous idea.
But up to this point, the talk has been GableStage taking over a new, smaller playhouse built on the site of the current decaying structure.  The current theatre has far more seats than a regional theatre can sustain; the largest regional theatre in South Florida is the nearby Actors' Playhouse, and they rarely fill the 600 seats of the Miracle Theater.  Beyond that, it's important to remember that union contracts set actors' salaries based on the number of seats in the venue.  The 1,000 seats of The Grove place it in the upper tiers of compensation. An expensive proposition.

Long-time supporters of the current building talk about its architectural significance, but ignore the fact that most of the original architectural elements were long gone before the space was converted from a movie house to a play house in the mid 1950s.  Even much of the work done in the 1950s has been reworked over time. Frankly, it would be more cost-effective to build from scratch than to rehabilitate the current abused structure. 

As previously mentioned, there is a suggestion that The Arsht Center for the Performing Arts could manage space, in manner similar to the way The Broward Center for the Performing Arts administers The Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.  Now that the Arsht has gotten on top of its debt and assembled a functional management team, this isn't as outrageous a proposal as it was five years ago. 

But it will take a lot of work to bring The Grove up to something approaching modern standards; the funds currently available aren't sufficient to restore the building AND update the theatre.  Meanwhile, The Olympia Theater, a similar sized venue which recently has gone through extensive renovations to bring it up to current standards, only managed 70 days of programming in 2010.

The question that needs to be addressed is what, exactly, does Coconut Grove want to preserve; national renown for excellent theatrical productions, or the building?  Because the two things may wind being mutually exclusive.

In the meantime, the building remains dark and shuttered.

No comments:

Post a Comment