Coconut Grove Chamber of Commerce: Arts / Commerce Complex takes shape in the Grove
June 1, 2021
In the drawing above, the site of the Charles Ave. recently approved is framed in red.
Much of the heart of Coconut Grove, dormant for over a decade, is about to come to life. This is indisputable the day after the meeting of the municipal commission on May 27.
The final design of the reconstructed Coconut Grove Playhouse, the centerpiece of the neighborhood, is still unknown. This is negotiated behind the scenes, in court, and in city and county offices. Whatever the outcome, the front building, designed by the famous firm Kiehnel and Elliott, will remain intact. The ruined auditorium, which has not been used since 2006, is likely to be rebuilt in one form or another. A multi-level parking structure has already been approved, but it is inextricably linked with the fate of the Playhouse building.
Plus, since last Thursday’s city commission meeting, the new hotel on Charles Avenue adjacent to the Playhouse is a certainty. The Commission approved the hotel project by a unanimous 4-0 vote, with Commissioner Manolo Reyes absent.
Too bad for the big picture. The devil, as always, is in the details. In this case, there are a lot of devils and dozens of details.
Right now, the biggest devil in the room is the deal the City is finalizing (or has already finalized) that spells out exactly what benefits the community will reap from the hotel project. The developers are the Stirrup family, among South Florida’s oldest and wealthiest black families, alongside a group that includes Peter Gardner and Gino Falsetto, two of Grove’s biggest developers. Several additions to the alliance were made during the May 27 meeting. They include speed tables on Charles Avenue to calm traffic, paid for by developers, and a commitment to hire local workers at a minimum wage of $ 15 an hour. These will be added to an existing agreement that included a 35-foot height limit and a $ 150,000 grant to the local nonprofit Rebuilding Together that will help West Grove residents modernize and maintain their homes. .
Who finalizes the covenant and who will approve it before it is tabled? Lawyer David Winker is not sure. He represents the immediate neighbors of the project on Charles and William avenues on a voluntary basis. Winker fought for the neighbors to gain intervenor status at the May 27 meeting and succeeded with five of them. It was a remarkable victory. Stakeholders have the right to participate in the process and to approve final plans. It remains to be seen how that will play out in the real world as the process progresses.
Anthony Vinciguerra, one of the neighborhood leaders and a resident of Charles Avenue within 500 feet of the project, still has concerns. “We know that an agreement with the City is very difficult to enforce because the City must enforce it,” he said. “Who’s going to do it? The severability clause in the current version allows the city to overrule it at any time.” If developers complain about the process, for example, the city commission could, in theory, remove the pact, he says.
Vinciguerra is particularly concerned about a part of the pact that deals with traffic. “We were hoping that construction and commercial traffic would be diverted from the main road to protect the historic, narrow residential streets of West Grove,” he says. “In the end, we were only able to get a commitment for one exit from the hotel that would ’cause’ traffic to turn left from Charles to Main Highway.” Based on the May 27 hearing, Vinciguerra believes the developer’s lawyer appears “ready to fight tooth and nail to ensure there are as few restrictions as possible on the project. This is certainly not what we were hoping would be the attitude of developers towards protecting the. We still hope their approach will change as things move forward.
Another devil with a host of subtly interwoven detail is the understanding of who exactly represents West Grove’s changing community. Several leaders of the black community spoke out in favor of the project at the May 27 Commission meeting. They hailed it as an economic engine that will help revitalize the West Grove. They praised its Bahamian-style design and its connection to the Stirrup family. The project has been approved by major community organizations in West Grove, they said. Still, Vinciguerra and several dozen other owners who live within 500 feet of the project, including longtime West Grove residents such as Shirley Gibson and William Armbrister, have signed a petition opposing it.
A leading West Grove organization, GRACE (Grove Rights And Community Equity), initially opposed the project, speaking at a zoning council meeting in February 2020 about the group’s concerns. Subsequently, GRACE was able to negotiate a community benefits agreement with the developers, including the $ 150,000 for Rebuilding Together and the requirement for local job creation, which changed its position to one of support. According to Rev. Nathaniel Robinson, president of GRACE, much of the wording for the final alliance is derived from the Community Benefits Agreement. Another provision limited the project to a hotel rather than condos or other use resulting from the required rezoning of the properties concerned. “It was a major victory for us,” said Robinson.
Where does it all lead? Inevitably, this leads to a big change in what the Playhouse-centric part of Coconut Grove will look like, what commercial elements it will include, and what the traffic will look like when it’s all over. Meanwhile, the devils are in the respective details.
Below: A rendering of the hotel facing Charles Ave.
This press release was produced by Coconut Grove Chamber of Commerce. The opinions expressed here are those of the author.