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Coconut Grove Playhouse Going For That Crack Den Aesthetic

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Ever since Florida's Department of Environmental Protection retook control of the shuttered Coconut Grove Playhouse last year, the storied structure has been left to rot. And until the state closes a deal with Florida International University, Miami-Dade County, and Gablestage to open a new theater on the site, it will likely remain an eyesore, according to emails between a Grove activist and the department of environmental protection staffer in charge of the storied building.

The theater was managed by a non-profit company called the Coconut Grove Playhouse from 1980 until 2004, when a mountain of debt and mismanagement forced the group to close the doors. Last October, the state exercised a clause that reverted the title to its control if the property was not used as a theater. Since then, the Department of Environmental Protection has been setting up the potential lease or sale.

In April, the partnership between FIU, the county, and Gablestage was the only entity to submit a proposal that calls for a new 300-seat theater with an annual $2.6 million budget to be built on the current parking lot using about $20 million in bond money already earmarked by voters. However the deal is being held up by the threat of lawsuits by the Playhouse's previous debtors, who are owed about $4 million.

Meanwhile, the old building has been falling apart and is starting to look like a place crackheads call home. Over the last two weeks, Harry Emilio Gottlieb has been emailing city, county, and state officials to take action and fix up the building. In May 23 email to Gottlieb, Vicki F Thompson, program administrator for the environmental protection department's Division of State Lands tells him "We are not proposing to do any 'major' renovations at this time since we have not completed our discussions with FIU and Miami-Dade County."

She says the department is working on hiring local contractors to replace and paint the plywood that covers the windows and doors to the Playhouse, as well as fix the fence and cover up graffiti on the exterior walls.

Gottlieb told her it wasn't enough in his reply. "As you can see from those Playhouse photos it looks like unbelievably bad," Gottlieb wrote. "This blighted condition would not be tolerated by the county, City of Miami or any municipality if it was a private residence or commercial building."

Follow Francisco Alvarado on Twitter: @thefrankness.

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