'Pie-in-the-sky' bid to save Gusman Theatre angers pressured parking authority
By Catherine Lackner
Frustrated by what they call a lack of coordinated action and facing a possible loss of City of Miami support, Miami Parking Authority directors last week demanded a plan to save the Gusman Theater.
Mayor Tomas Regalado has said that beginning Oct. 1, the Gusman's $478,000 subsidy may be eliminated in favor of essential services like police and fire rescue. The theater has money to survive through January or February if that happens, said Scott Simpson, parking authority chief financial officer. But if the theater closes, "You'll be spending a lot of time trying to get back the name, credit and reputation that you had."
A 50-person community work group met in March to craft a plan to preserve the circa-1926 theater at 174 E Flagler St. but nothing much has happened since, said authority board Chair Jami Reyes.
"I'm disappointed about a couple of things," she said last week. "The committee was supposed to be meeting with the appropriate board members to come up with a plan, but that didn't happen. It took the city [threat] to wake everybody up."
Thomas Jelke, a parking board member who serves on the board of the Actors' Playhouse in Coral Gables and who was to be a liaison between the work group and the parking authority, is out of the country for several months.
"We need a short- and a long-term plan," agreed board member Marlon Hill.
"We've been working with the Friends of Gusman for a long time," said Alexandra Argudin, the authority's chief development officer.
In fact, said Margaret Lake, Gusman director, the fundraising group has come up with its own plan "and there will be a timeline attached to that."
"We just sit here and approved stuff," said Ms. Reyes, apparently unconvinced. "I want to see a goal. We're pie-in-the-sky about Gusman. This has to happen this week. We can't just keep throwing stuff up against the wall and hope it sticks."
Ms. Reyes, who said she serves on many boards, insisted the new work group should be small and focused, because the buck tends to be passed if too many are involved.
The theater operates with 65% in earned revenues and 35% in contributions from the city, Miami-Dade County and private sources, a budget arrangement standard for a theater of its size and history, Ms. Lake said at the March work group.
While Ms. Lake said she and her staff have made progress since she arrived in 2007 — renegotiating vendor contracts, launching a $1.4 million renovation, increasing bookings by 42% and boosting visibility on social media sites like Facebook — much remains to do.
Over the next few years, the structure needs $10 million in renovations including new windows, repair of water damage, new lighting and electrical upgrades, Ms. Lake said.
But in these lean times, the theater cannot count on city or county funding at the previous levels.
The Gusman family donated the theater to the city in 1975 with the stipulation that the authority run it, an effort to keep it removed from City Hall politics.