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In the Spotlight,

  • Little Bahama’s Business Corridor and Judith’s Market
  • Ace Theater Restoration
  • Ken Russell Pulls Back the Curtain, Part 2

Find the latest Spotlight reporting anytime on our website.

Commissioner Damian Pardo seeks to boost the economic prospects of West Grove businesses with a new marketing initiative.

by Francisco Alvarado

On Grand Avenue between Plaza Street and Douglas Road Miami District 2 Commissioner Damien Pardo’s office spent a few thousand dollars on new signage to give the West Grove’s small business owners a marketing boost.

Strapped to lamp posts on the sidewalks, roughly a dozen blue banners welcome passing motorists to the “Little Bahamas Business Corridor.” 

The signs represent a large chunk of the $10,000 that Pardo’s office set aside for the initiative, which some are calling a BID light – a scaled-down version of a “business improvement district” which collects additional taxes and fees from property owners and merchants to pay for beautification projects, maintenance and promotional campaigns.

“Our commitment is to put forward the initial capital to help create the economic vitality that West Grove residents and business owners want to see flourish,” Pardo told the Spotlight. “They feel they have been neglected and have not been provided the resources.” 

But the Little Bahamas Business Corridor, despite the banners, is a long way from becoming a semi-autonomous city board like the Coconut Grove Business Improvement District, which encompasses the Grove’s central business core.

A sidewalk café blossoms on Grand Avenue in the West Grove.

by Jenny Jacoby

The sidewalk café at Judith’s Market on Grand Avenue. (Hank Sanchez-Resnik for the Spotlight)

Judith’s Market, a gourmet boutique, has been lighting up the upper section of Grand Avenue with fairy lights, conversation, and good coffee for nearly two years. It is a twinkling success in a relatively business-barren area of the Grove thanks to owners Judith and Range Watson’s homemade menu and friendly presence.  

Open every day but Monday, customers walk into a cozy interior or lush outdoor patio at 3870 Grand Avenue to greetings from Judith herself. The market is primarily a coffee shop but doubles as a gallery and storefront for the product that started it all: honey.  

In the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Watson couple sought a change and began selling honey at farmer’s markets. They purchased two beehives from a local vendor and began bottling the honey to be sold in markets across Florida. The two beehives quickly multiplied to 1,000 and the desire for a permanent place to sell their honey blossomed. 

“You can’t sustain a place like this with only honey. So, then we started thinking out of the box. What can we make of it? We can make it a coffee shop and we can sell goods,” Judith said.

The historic Ace Theater on Grand Avenue in Coconut Grove may finally be restored and reopened with grant support from the National Park Service.

by Hennessy Sepulveda

West Grove, Grand Avenue, Ace theater,
The Ace Theater at 3664 Grand Avenue in Coconut Grove was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2016. (Hennessey Sepulveda for the Spotlight)

In the days of segregation, the Ace Theater on Grand Avenue in Coconut Grove was the Black community’s showplace for movies and entertainment events.

With an auditorium that seated more than 300 people, the historic venue staged live performances, hosted high school graduations and proms, and screened Hollywood movies from the 1930s until 1978, when its doors closed a final time. The theater even served as a designated fallout shelter during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.

Built, owned and operated by Wometco Enterprises as a “colored only” theater, the Ace is owned today by Dorothy M. Wallace and her daughter Denise Wallace.

Armour Dance
The former city commissioner talks about lobbyists in City Hall, the failure of Coconut Grove zoning reform, and the challenges facing Commissioner Damian Pardo.

by David Villano

Former District 2 commission Ken Russell (and Umeboshi) on a recent morning in his Coconut Grove home.

Ken Russell served as the District 2 City of Miami Commissioner, representing Coconut Grove, from 2015 to 2022. Part 2 of his interview with the Spotlight’s David Villano continues here.

Spotlight: You first ran for office in 2015 as an outsider promising to address the culture of corruption and influence peddling that has long plagued City Hall. What surprised you most when you began pursuing that agenda?

Russell: Let me answer by saying this. The city attorney felt that a big part of her job was to protect the finances of the city. She would bring up this concept of fiduciary duty. In her mind, that fiduciary duty included making sure no one who sued the city could win, even if the city was wrong. And she felt her job was to protect the finances of the city, not the ethics of the city, and this can lead to some poor decisions. From the land-use perspective, for instance, I remember the city attorney advising me to be pro-development because it puts more money on the tax rolls, and then, logically, the commission has more money to disperse and to play with. But this was problematic because the city attorney shouldn’t be advocating for policy. The commissioners should be making the financial decisions and the land-use decisions, and relying on legal advice only when it’s requested. All of this – and the access provided to lobbyists and land-use attorneys– are what led to my efforts to have her fired when I took office.

Spotlight: Are you saying that lobbyists and land-use attorneys had access to the city attorney in ways that influenced city policy?

Russell: The city attorney had a pretty open-door policy with lobbyists and land-use attorneys. So, when applications [for land development] come in, the planning and zoning staff, along with the city attorney, opine on those applications. They help steer the commissioners on what is legal, what is not legal within the code and the law. But it’s become a philosophy of some within the administration that the city attorney and other staff should help enable those applicants. To the layman, that looks like corruption at its highest because someone’s applying for something they maybe shouldn’t be able to get and the city administration coaches them into a successful application. I don’t think the resident who is applying for a permit to change the façade of his home would ever get that kind of help and attention.

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