In the 13 years the Coconut Grove Playhouse has been closed, city officials, community members, and activists have pitched a number of possibilities for the historic theater. Last week, on May 8, the Miami City Commission cast a 3-2 vote on a controversial revitalization plan that called for saving the façade but demolishing the auditorium.
Preservation groups decried the decision as "an egregious mistake" and urged Mayor Francis Suarez to veto the plan. This morning, Suarez delivered, saying the theater must be saved.
"For the first time in my tenure as mayor since November of 2017, I have decided to exercise my veto over an action of the city commission," he announced at a news conference earlier today. "The overriding and the overarching factor is preserving one of our most historical and precious assets in the City of Miami."
I have officially vetoed the decision endorsing the plan to demolish the #CoconutGrove Playhouse, possibly removing it from the National Register. I look forward to working with the community to properly preserve this historic jewel. pic.twitter.com/XbR2VEmK1f— Mayor Francis Suarez (@MiamiMayor) May 17, 2019
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Commissioners Keon Hardemon and Ken Russell were the only commission members to oppose the plan last week. In a Facebook video after the vote, Russell, whose district includes Coconut Grove, said demolishing the theater would cause the playhouse to lose its status with the National Register of Historic Places.
"This theater needs to be preserved, and we should be cherishing the last remaining historic structures we have in what is otherwise a very young city," Russell said. He also urged Suarez to veto the commission's decision.
A small crowd gathered outside the playhouse cheered Friday morning as Suarez announced his veto. The mayor blasted the plan approved by commissioners, which he says would have turned more than half of the building into commercial space.
"While that may be commercially viable, commercial viability is not the standard for historic preservation in the City of Miami," Suarez said. "I think it would kill the character and the soul of this city."