Sony talks with officials of role at Coconut Grove Playhouse
By Zachary S. Fagenson
Sony Latin America has stepped onto the stage of the Coconut Grove Playhouse's revitalization scene, but there are few details as to what the media and electronics giant has in mind for the now-closed and deep-in-debt historic theater.
A representative of the company met in mid-November with Michael Spring, director of the county's Department of Cultural Affairs, and Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff to present a plan that reaches well beyond the proposed 300-seat theater to be operated by GableStage.
"They're seeing if they can create a scenario under which the premises can be sort of live entertainment, not necessarily just theater," Mr. Sarnoff said in an interview Tuesday. "They're looking for something much wider."
Though the plan remains unclear and no official documents have been submitted, it seems to be a multimedia vision bringing together film, music, live music and more.
"Sony folks were telling us people don't buy CDs, they download music, and they need to create venues for live performances for pop stars, more venues [where] they can showcase more music," Mr. Spring said. "They talked about indoor venues, outdoor venues, a lot of things talked about, but there wasn't anything I heard specifically."
His chief concern is ensuring that whatever plans are considered are consistent with the county manager's plan for the site and complement GableStage, "the new 300-seat theater, a larger theater to be built at some indefinite point in the future, whenever it could be afforded, and complementary low-scale commercial development," Mr. Spring said in a past interview.
The plan also includes a parking garage, for which the cultural affairs department is working with the Coconut Grove Business Improvement District to find funds.
The county already has $20 million from voter-approved general obligation bonds for construction of the new theater alongside the existing one that is a designated historic site.
EMr. Sarnoff, however, seems confident Sony would be able to develop the entire site at once, rather than piecemeal as the manager plans, and would be the dominant player there.
"I think there's no doubt GableStage doesn't have the same panache as Sony," he said. "I would see it as Sony occupying the premise and making space for GableStage.
It "would be a premier destination place that no one else could equal down here," he added.
Bringing in Sony to help build the entire site at once, he argued, would also help preserve GableStage, which was selected in an open process by the board of Coconut Grove Playhouse LLC "a couple years ago" to operate the theater, said playhouse board Chair Shelly Spivack.
"Let's say in three or five years you can [build] more phases," Mr. Sarnoff said. "You could even have a successful [GableStage Artistic Director] Joe Adler and 500-seat theater that goes in there, you would kill him."
Sony, according to Mr. Sarnoff and Mr. Spring, put forward no specifics of what it would like built on the site or how it would be funded. Both asked the company to put together something more specific that outlines how everything would be paid for.
"What comes next is really the art of the negotiation," Mr. Sarnoff said, and "what documents will be put out there so we can present it to the board."
But "no one has approached the playhouse about" Sony's plan, Ms. Spivack said. She declined to comment on it.
And what the playhouse board decides may dictate the site's future.
The county doesn't "control the property the playhouse is the trust," Mr. Sarnoff said, "So it's still the board's decision to make."