Let's Welcome a New Coconut Grove Tradition!
Last week, as construction crews hurriedly put the final touches on a new restaurant in the center of Coconut Grove, an unsettling sense of dej" vu hovered over the scene. Here was a Grove property owner opening a sprawling, so-called adventure bar, dismissing the complaints of neighborhood residents, receiving compliant winks from city officials despite numerous building code violations, and proudly touting the invigoration of the Grove. The only thing missing from this flashback was the destruction of a historic structure.
But Richard Peacock had already done that.
A descendant of the pioneering Grove family of the same name, Peacock sparked outrage among preservationists when, in 1989, he demolished the 53-year-old Peacock House on McFarlane Road to make way for a bar/restaurant called Grove Calloway's. According to the special permit he had received from the City of Miami, Peacock was required to incorporate the original wood-frame structure into the new building. But by the time inspectors took a closer look, it was too late. When Calloway's opened in June 1990, all that could be found of the venerable Peacock House was the gabled roof and some bits of the frame. City officials chastised Peacock but then retroactively approved the altered plans just to make things legal. The open-air fun center quickly became a favorite among the college crowd and young professionals drawn by live music and a menu that featured a wide array of rum drinks.
Local activists dismayed at the relentless destruction of the old Grove cried foul, but Peacock was defiant. He had taken a termite-ridden eyesore, "the armpit of the Grove," as he called it, and created a fine addition to the area's growing list of restaurants. Grove Calloway's, he predicted, would be around for years to come.
Fifteen months later Peacock sold Calloway's (but not the land on which it sat) to a New York entrepreneur, who transformed it first into a Mexican cafe called Tyrannosaurus Mex, then into the short-lived Buster's BBQ. By the spring of last year, Peacock had foreclosed on the failed enterprise. "The guy ran the business into the ground," Peacock says today. "I had to evict him."
The site remained vacant for several months before Peacock decided to resuscitate Grove Calloway's and its happy-hour ethos. He proceeded apace with renovations: raising floors, erecting new roofs, building bars. But when city inspectors paid a visit in mid-January, they made a discovery that recalled the controversies of 1990: Peacock had undertaken construction that wasn't allowed under terms of the original permit required for "special interest districts" such as Coconut Grove. And as they had done three years earlier, city administrators shrugged and asked Peacock to apply for revised permits that would match the unauthorized work already completed.
But as late as January 27 Peacock had not sought the new permits. A top city building official then wrote a firm note to Peacock threatening to shut off the electricity to Calloway's if he didn't submit new construction blueprints. Peacock had workmen tear down some offending structures and, he claims, hired an architect to draw up the new plans the city had demanded.
On Tuesday of last week, Peacock requested an emergency occupancy permit that would enable him to hold a grand opening party. Despite exposed wiring and electrical boxes, illegally installed air-conditioning units, a faulty sprinkler system, and no electrical permit, the city acquiesced. (The city did require Peacock to hire two city officials to watch for fire during the party.)
Calloway's then closed Wednesday and Thursday while Peacock's contractors rushed to comply with city regulations. As late as last Friday afternoon, workmen were scrambling to dismantle a bar along Grand Avenue that did not conform to codes. But at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, the city's administrator for Coconut Grove, Christina Abrams, reported that Peacock had secured full approval for a temporary certificate of occupancy.
Finally, Calloway's was ready for the weekend crowds -- with the exception of one minor detail: parking. Though adequate designated parking is required for a business such as Calloway's, city officials again relented when Peacock asked for leniency. Explains Abrams: "They have 90 days to explain where their parking's coming from."
According to some neighbors, 90 days is 90 days too many to overlook one of the Grove's most pressing problems. "There's a great deal of concern as to the opening of a restaurant that does not have sufficient parking," says David Gell, president of the Center Grove Neighborhood Association and secretary of the Cocoanut Grove Village Council. "We have worked very hard for very many months to solve the problem [of congestion and parking], and when he opens up, he's adding to the problem."
Peacock contends he's got the parking situation under control; he has rented the required 62 spaces from two nearby parking lots. "The city's been fucking around with us, making us lose money for two months," he complains. "They came in with little technicalities." As for those Grove locals who grouse about parking and worry over the potential for excessive noise from a powerful sound system, Peacock is baffled: "I don't know what they want. This is a place for people to come be entertained."
As for those who still express bitterness over the razing of his ancestors' landmark and the Grove's transformation from quaint village to traffic-jammed commercial center, Peacock remains unapologetic: "It was an old, rundown, derelict house that bums lived in. All I've done is upgrade this area. I've brought in Johnny Rockets, Miami Subs. It's all neoned! It's beautiful!
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