See me privately, commissioner orders Burn Notice producer
By Catherine Lackner
Whether hit TV series "Burn Notice" leaves town — taking with it millions in ancillary spending, hundreds of jobs and untold positive global impressions — hinges on negotiations between two men: show producer Terry Miller and Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff.
Though the entire commission governs the former Coconut Grove Exposition Center, where the show is filming its sixth season, members took a hands-off approach last week and gave Mr. Sarnoff carte blanche.
The show is filmed in a 107,000-square-foot space adjacent to City Hall and pays $240,000 per year, but the city wants to demolish the building for a waterfront park as part of its Coconut Grove Waterfront Master Plan.
About 70 people — including crew and cast from the show, representatives of the local film industry and people whose businesses depend on "Burn Notice" — waited hours at last week's commission meeting before being told they couldn't speak.
"I know you're concerned for your families and what's going to happen to you," Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones told the crowd. "Every commissioner up here supports the idea of "Burn Notice' being here."
"We're trying to transition "Burn Notice' from Coconut Grove to Wynwood," Ms. Spence-Jones said, though the show's producers have said repeatedly that the city's Wynwood site is a bad fit. "We do have an independent studio we're trying to support there."
During lease negotiations last year, Mr. Sarnoff suggested the show move to the Miami Entertainment Complex, a city-owned building on Northwest 13th Street that is meant to be a film studio. Mr. Miller said then that wasn't feasible; he reiterated it this year.
If terms can't be worked out with the city, the show is strongly considering Broward County, where it has ties, said Bob Lemchen, senior vice president, production, at Fox Television Studios. Fox is also looking at other states, some of which offer better film incentives than Florida.
Wherever the show ends up, "We've all dropped the ball on the "Burn Notice' issue," Ms. Spence-Jones said. "Someone should have been ringing the bell six months ago, saying the commissioner is serious about this park, and not waited until we were 30 or 60 days away from making a decision.
"I support whatever you want to do with the facility," she told Mr. Sarnoff. "I also support "Burn Notice,' and if they want to make a transition, then we support whatever transition that is."
"Here's my position," Mr. Sarnoff said. "There will be a park there. The constituents want a park. They're expecting a park."
Despite the $100 million that the show poured into Florida — mostly in Miami — during its first five years, "this is a District 2 item," said Mr. Sarnoff, who represents District 2. "I don't find this to be a city-wide item."
Nevertheless, "You come and see me," he told Mr. Miller, who was present. "Don't send a surrogate. All you had to do was come see me. You have my cellphone number; I have yours. I'm not going to enter into a discussion from the podium."
"The hardest thing in our jobs is when two good objectives come into conflict," said Commissioner Francis Suarez. "I do believe there's a workable solution. I believe [Mr. Sarnoff] is going to work hard to find it."
"This never should have gotten to the point of everybody chiming in," Ms. Spence-Jones told the audience. "This has gotten a little out of control. The only people who should be talking about this are Marc and Terry."
"Mr. Miller, once you learn that you have been provided another season, come and see me," Mr. Sarnoff reiterated.
"You have to look at the positive side," said Sandy Lighterman, film and entertainment industry liaison for the Miami-Dade Office of Film and Entertainment, after the meeting. "At least the city is willing to negotiate now. These commissioners have a very tough job and it's difficult for them to accommodate everyone.
"That said, we hope that the city will see the positive results of having "Burn Notice' reside at the former convention center and that this comes to a positive resolution for both parties."
To read the entire issue of Miami Today online, subscribe to e -Miami Today, an exact digital replica of the printed edition.