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La Placita's flag mural is in jeopardy.
La Placita's flag mural is in jeopardy.
Joey Cancel

La Placita Loses Round One in Fight to Save Puerto Rican Flag Mural

La Placita's partners lost round one in the fight to preserve the restaurant's now-famous Puerto Rican flag mural.

The MiMo District restaurant, a partnership between chef Jose Mendin and TV personality Julian Gil, is a tribute to the culture and flavors of Puerto Rico — from the mofongo on the menu to the three-story mural of the Puerto Rican flag, titled Plantando Bandera, painted by artist Hector Collazo. The mural has become a source of both pride and controversy in the three months since its arrival in the neighborhood.

Just days after the mural was painted, Miami code-enforcement officers cited the restaurant owners, according to La Placita CEO Joey Cancel, who says the restaurant team hired a permit expediter to help obtain the proper permitting. Though they were issued a special events permit, the project first needed approval by the city's Historical and Environmental Preservation Board (HEP). The city, Cancel says, pushed the permit through without that step. Cancel and La Placita's partners then applied for a retroactive approval by the preservation board.

In a HEP board meeting that lasted until well past midnight this past Tuesday, they were denied the approval in a 5-3 vote in what was called a "split adverse decision."

According to John Heffernan, deputy director of the Office of Communications of the City of Miami, the board made their decision for the removal of the mural based on the requirements of Chapter 23 of the City Code, the Historic Design Guidelines, and the MiMo Guidelines. The applicants (La Placita) still have the option of appealing the HEP Board’s decision to the City Commission.

Cancel says they now have 15 days to appeal the decision — and they will. "We're going to file an appeal next Thursday."

La Placita Loses Round One in Fight to Save Puerto Rican Flag Mural
Joey Cancel

The restaurant executive says that even though the board initially shot down the flag mural, he and his partners were given the opportunity to speak about its importance to the community. They cited the fact that La Placita is drawing people to the growing neighborhood that still has a good number of vacant storefronts along the Biscayne corridor. At the meeting, Cancel displayed a poster showing seven vacant spaces adjacent to the thriving eatery.

In the meeting, Cancel also said the mural might be offered protection under the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA). An extension of the 1976 Copyright Act, VARA was created in 1990 to grant rights to artists to protect their work from alteration, distortion, or mutilation. Interestingly, anything else that might detract from the artist’s relationship with the work even after it leaves the artist’s possession or ownership might bring these moral rights into play.

Cancel is optimistic the flag will remain when all is said and done, though there might be a long road ahead. The restaurant's online petition has garnered nearly 100,000 signatures, so it seems many people agree the flag should stay. Still, the restaurant CEO says, it's a fight that diverts energy from more productive avenues. "We have been dedicating time and effort on this rather than growing our business."

La Placita. 6789 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-400-8173; pubbellyglobal.com.

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