Grove Playhouse lot sought by state rep for hotel
By Paola Iuspa
State Rep. Gustavo Barreiro is asking Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris to free up a state-owned parking lot adjacent to the Coconut Grove Playhouse to allow a hotel to be built.
With a lease between the playhouse and the state close to renewal, Mr. Barreiro is requesting Ms. Harris not to extend the $1 annual rent the playhouse pays to use the lot for parking to allow a development that would bring revenue to the state and avoid litigation.
In a letter to Ms. Harris dated Feb. 15, Mr. Barreiro proposed to give the land to Playhouse Associates, a developer that the theater's board of trustees selected in 1997 to build a mixed-use project, including a hotel and parking space.
The board of trustees cancelled the contract in September because the developer did not comply with some of the requirements of the contract, said Alvin Davis, vice chair of the Coconut Grove Playhouse trustees.
"We gave them time to correct it. But we can not wait forever," he said.
Board members in January wanted to renovate the theater and retain the land to build a parking facility but without an outside developer, according to trustee documents.
Mr. Barreiro's letter said if the state does not give the land to the developer, Playhouse Associates would sue.
"The land belongs to the people of the State of Florida," he wrote in the letter. "Area taxpayers and merchants are demanding the development of the vacant land by the chosen developer without further delay. Taxpayers are entitled to the highest and best use of their land and to receive the highest revenue source."
He said the land had been underused for more than 15 years as a 190-space parking lot generating no more than $200,000 in revenues yearly.
"Our next step will be to inform Mr. Barreiro what the facts are," Mr. Davis said. "I don't think he knows much about it or is interested in it."
Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce President Bill Cullom, a member of the playhouse board, said educating people about "the misinformation the developer was spreading around" was essential.
The board plans to go ahead with a plan for a $20 million renovation project and construction of an $8 million parking garage, according to documents. The playhouse has raised $5 million from the private sector that is to be matched by $5 million from Miami-Dade County.
Mr. Barreiro's letter also questioned the need for an upgraded theater when the county was in the process of building a performing arts center.
"Undertaking a $30 million expansion project with taxpayer dollars is of significance at this time in light of the performing arts center being build with tax dollars," he wrote.
The playhouse board elected to go ahead with their project saying it would boost the economic impact the playhouse has on Coconut Grove, which it estimated at $12 million annually.