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Miami-Dade County Wins Latest Round in Battle over Playhouse

Once again, a court has ruled on the ongoing debate about the status of the Coconut Grove Playhouse. The latest decision came from the Miami-Dade County 11th Judicial Circuit Court on Feb. 9. Essentially, the court ruled that the demolition of most of the Playhouse except for the front façade facing Main Highway can go forward.

This week, District 2 Commissioner, Damian Pardo weighed in with a public statement of his position on the Playhouse for the first time since his election. His statement reads in part: “The Coconut Grove Playhouse is a landmark with significant cultural and historical value to our community. As Miami-Dade County discusses plans for its redevelopment, our priority is to preserve the quality of life for residents and the surrounding historical neighborhood on Charles Avenue.”

A joint statement from District 7 Commissioner Raquel Regalado and Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, also issued this week, reads in part: “Last week’s court ruling is a win for our community. Miami-Dade County is committed to a thoughtful rehabilitation of the historic Coconut Grove Playhouse. Working with the City of Miami, we now can move forward with preserving and rebuilding the Coconut Grove Playhouse, which has remained dormant for too long.”

To read both statements in their entirety, click here

This latest step in the ongoing struggle comes after 18 years of disputes about the future of the Playhouse, which will celebrate the 100th anniversary of its opening in 2027. The County plan (demolish most of the Playhouse and replace it with a new 300-seat theater and other buildings) is significantly different from the “preservation” plan (keep the historic theater mostly intact).

The entire history of the Playhouse since it shut down in 2006 is a bewildering panorama of hearings, meetings, votes, decisions, protests, reports, and judicial findings. The latest court decision was issued by three judges responding to an appeal by Miami-Dade County of a March 2023 8-2 vote by the Planning & Zoning Appeals Board to halt the demolition. The judges upheld the appeal.

An egregious aspect of approving the County’s waiver application for demolition, says PZAB member Anthony Parrish, long associated with the preservationists, is the waiver hinges on an obscure item in the Miami 21 zoning code that permits a demolition waiver if the developer had done a tree survey for the project. “They could get a waiver without even mentioning the building’s historical importance,” says Parrish. “It is patently absurd to rule that the demolition of the century-old Coconut Grove Playhouse can be demolished merely by submitting a tree survey.”

“This is a civic-zoned property,” says Courtney Berrien, one of the plaintiffs in the recent court case who lives within 500 feet of the Playhouse on Charles Avenue. “The county’s plan would turn the property commercial. It reduces the historically designated landmark structure to a small theater surrounded by a mini mall with shops, bars, and restaurants spilling onto residential properties that have been single-family homes for more than a century. This will have a detrimental effect on the neighbors, forever changing the character of our neighborhood.”

Says Reynold Martin, a board member of the Coconut Grove Village West Homeowners and Tenants Association, “There is concern about the commercial encroachment the county’s plan could bring to the neighborhood, and Village West residents have not really been involved in the discussions to date. This plan needs to be put on pause, so there can be a meaningful engagement with the residents of Village West. We want to see how the new development of the Playhouse can both support, and protect, our neighborhood and its history.”  

Marlene Erven has been a leader of the Playhouse preservation movement. “There is nothing in the recent court decision that changes the fact that Miami-Dade County needs to present its plan to the Historic and Environmental Protection Board (HEPB) for approval,” she says. “We believe the full restoration can not only preserve our heritage but also contribute significantly to the cultural and economic vitality of our Coconut Grove community, and we remain steadfast in our commitment to this vision.”

To view the County plan for the Playhouse, click here.

To visit the Save the Coconut Grove Playhouse website, click here.

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