After years of uncertainty, blame-throwing, and political maneuvering, one of the most dramatic real estate stories in recent Miami history has entered its conclusion. The Coconut Grove Playhouse narrowly escaped being sold by the state of Florida to the highest bidder this week when Miami-Dade officials, with just hours to spare, delivered documents to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, proving that they'd settled the property's debts at last.
Efforts of the county, the city of Miami, and FIU managed to bring the playhouse's debts of $3.5 million down to $120,000, which will be paid off by parking operations at the site, according to a press release.
"Now we can get started on the work to ensure that this important site is reactivated in order to present great theater experiences for families and children throughout South Florida," said Carlos A. Gimenez, Mayor of Miami-Dade County, in a statement.
That reactivation involves finally using the $20 million in funds earmarked for restoration of the historic building, which dates to 1926. Since the theater shut its doors in 2006, the property has entered a state of steady decline, at times being covered in graffiti, serving as a home for squatters, and even, some Grove residents allege, endangering pedestrians as pieces of its exterior fell onto the sidewalk below.
Now, Miami-Dade County and FIU will jointly lease the property from the state, with plans to present co-productions of FIU's Theater Department and GableStage. But first, restoration can begin. The building's exterior, protected under historic designation, will be restored to its original 1920s look. But there's debate about the building's interior, which business-minded consultants say is too big for the caliber of performance planned for the building. One plan is to change the interior to allow for retail space, but preservationists argue that there's just as much history inside the original theater as in its facade.
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The next step, according to the county, is to select an architectural team and a plan of restoration. No doubt there'll be even more drama before the curtain rises at the playhouse once again.
Follow Ciara LaVelle on Twitter @ciaralavelle.
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