Arquitectonica wins bid to design plan to revive Coconut Grove Playhouse

 
February 3, 2015
A team led by Miami's Arquitectonica has won a competition to design a master plan for the revival of the long-shuttered but historic Coconut Grove Playhouse, Miami-Dade County administrators said Tuesday.

The recommendation by the office of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, which must be ratified by the county commission, marks a major step in a long-running effort to reopen the theater, a major cultural and architectural landmark as well as an economic linchpin for Coconut Grove.

But it could also lay the groundwork for contention over the future of the historic but deteriorated Mediterranean-style building, which is a designated city of Miami landmark and is legally protected from demolition. Some Grove activists and preservationists are demanding the theater be renovated and reused, but fear the county process would result in a recommendation that it be entirely or partly demolished.

The design team, which also includes architect Jorge Hernandez, a prominent preservationist, would make a recommendation on what to do with the theater. The county, which has $20 million set aside for the theater's renovation or reconstruction, wants the consultants to determine whether the publicly owned site can accommodate a small, 300-seat theater and a second, larger theater as well as a parking garage.

The selection of Arquitectonica and its team had been an open secret since late last year, but Miami-Dade officials were constrained from confirming it because of a "cone of silence" rule designed to bar lobbying during the competitive process. A total of nine firms applied for the job.

But some activists have blogged that Arquitectonica was hired with the express purpose of demolishing the historic building and replacing it with a modern structure something Michael Spring, the county's cultural affairs director, vehemently denied on Tuesday. Though Arquitectonica has its international headquarters in the Grove, many Grove residents revile its sleek, glassy design for a planned redevelopment of the site of the Scotty's Landing and Chart House restaurants.

"That's not true," Spring said of the blogging allegations. "We are going to hire the best team of experts to help us solve the puzzle of the Coconut Grove Playhouse."

Arquitectonica's team, which also includes renown theatrical consultant Fisher Dachs Associates, received the top scores from an evaluation committee that included Spring.

A proposed contract with the team will go to county commissioners in March or April, Spring said.

The county is leading the revitalization effort under an agreement with Florida International University, which gained control of the property after the state took it back from a nonprofit board that critics say ran the theater into the ground economically. Under the deal, GableStage, an acclaimed company that now operates at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, would run the 300-seat theater.

The Miami Herald
By Andres Viglucci

Photo by Peter Andrew Bosch