Sarnoff: Coconut Grove Playhouse Uses Taxpayer Money as "Band-Aid for its Failures"

South Florida needs some help from the Theater Gods. First, the City of Miami let a gorgeous white-pillared building called the Lyric Theater crumble to shit. Then came the curse of the Hollywood Playhouse: There were years of ownership clashes, production flops and financial trouble.Now the Grove is hosting the offstage drama.

The Coconut Grove Playhouse used to be a throbbing hub for performance art. The regal blue building boasted some big names, too: Liza Minnelli, Ethel Merman, and -- how could we forget? -- Beatrice Author of The Golden Girls.

So it's depressing that the place has been sitting vacant for four years. And if you believe the letter City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff recently penned, it's more than depressing. It's enraging.

According the letter - which was not quoted in last week's Herald article- the playhouse Board of Directors not only racked up about $3.5 million in debt in a 5-year span, they "interfered with auditors," "paid staff in cash," delayed the opening with unnecessary lawsuits, and kept public records from newspaper reporters.

"This is a crime," Says Coconut Grove Grapevine Blogger Tom Falco. "The place is sitting and rotting while political games are being played."

Board Director Shelley Spivack could not be reached immediately for comment. "I am terribly disappointed and surprised," she told the Herald. "We have a plan."

Sarnoff's letter is was addressed to County Commissioners May 25. It makes some strong accusations: "The board has used other people's money to act as a bandaid for its failures," "refuses to maintain the property," and has "persistently acted in secrecy."

Last week, Sarnoff requested that the state take over the theater. Florida's Department of Environmental Protection turned him down.

Grovites are not letting the issue die. "There has been lots of plans, but no action," says Falco." [It's a] shame. It's a jewel with a lot of history."

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