Commission Withdraws Plan to Wrest Control of Tower Theater

Photo by Miami Dade College
Miami Dade College has operated the historic Tower Theater on Calle Ocho in Little Havana since 2002.
The City of Miami Commission has withdrawn a measure to oust Miami Dade College from the Tower Theater and put the historic property in the hands of a veterans group.

As it happens, the people who would have taken over the theater want nothing to do with it.

A resolution sponsored by Miami City Commissioner Joe Carollo called for the city to waive competitive bidding and allow the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association, Brigade 2506, to take over the historic Tower Theater at 1508 SW Eighth St. so they can "better operate" the property. A second resolution aimed to give the empty lot behind the theater to the association to build a museum and affordable housing.

While the leadership of Brigade 2506 is keen on the empty lot, they say they have no interest in taking over the theater, which has been operated by Miami Dade College for 20 years.

"There's nothing we want to do there. We're not interested in that property," Rafael Montalvo, president of Brigade 2506, tells New Times.

Montalvo tells New Times that Brigade 2506 has obtained $2.6 million to construct a Bay of Pigs museum and hopes to build it behind the Tower Theater. But the theater itself was never in their plans, despite Carollo's urging.

"We said no but he insisted. We don't want the tower. We're all 80 years old. We don't want to quarrel with anybody," Montalvo says.

The theater also sits directly in front of the Ball & Chain nightclub, facing it from across the street. Carollo has famously feuded with the men behind Ball & Chain and currently faces a federal lawsuit from the nightclub's co-owner Bill Fuller, who claims the commissioner weaponized city code enforcement to harass properties that he owns.

Reached by New Times over the phone Wednesday, Carollo said the Tower Theater item would be pulled from the agenda by the city manager. This morning, City Manager Art Noriega withdrew both resolutions while Carollo was not in attendance.

First opened in 1926 as a state-of-the-art facility, the Tower Theater served as a nexus for Cubans who had settled in Miami on Calle Ocho in the 1960s and were eager to watch American films. Though the theater closed in 1984, Miami Dade College reopened the venue's doors in 2002 under a lease with the City of Miami, turning the venue into one of Miami's go-to spots for art-house cinema. The lease is up this coming January.

Juan Mendieta, director of communications for the college, tells New Times via email that the college has made great efforts to preserve the theater and make it a benefit to the Little Havana community through the Miami Film Festival and the Gems Film Festival.

Mendieta says the college operates the Tower Theater without assistance from the city and has invested more than $1 million in capital expenditures to maintain and enhance the property. Mendieta would not say for sure if the college will seek to renew its lease come 2023.

"The College has been an exceptional steward of [this landmark]. MDC is proud of the significant impact it has made on the community through the Tower Theater and all our campuses and programs, and are always open to future partnerships that benefit our community and its residents," he says.