Fighting Blight In Coconut Grove
The most recent notice on The Bicycle Shop, citing the owner,
Coconut Grove Playhouse LLC., with “First Year failure to
register a Blighted, unsecured, or abandoned structure.”

My recent trip to Gilchrist, my old stomping grounds in Detroit, has me thinking about urban blight in entirely different terms these days. Saturday’s visit to The Grove forced me to look at Coconut Grove blight in way I had never considered before.

Admittedly the word “blight” was already ringing in my head when I came across the NOTICE (left), which cites the owner of the Bicycle Shop with “First Year failure to register a Blighted, unsecured, or abandoned structure.” It’s worth noting that Aries Development, fronted by rapacious developer Gino Falsetto, took control of The Bicycle Shop in January. It promptly ripped off the roof and has since allowed it to become blighted, if the City of Miami can be believed. Imagine that. In one of the most exclusive Zip Codes in the entire country.

Which brings us to the blighted E.W.F. Stirrup House. Aries Development acquired control of the Stirrup House almost a decade ago. Since then the second oldest house in Coconut Grove has become blighted — there’s no other word for it — and it becomes more so every single day. Aries acquired a 50-year lease on the Stirrup House (the house must remain in the Stirrup family in perpetuity) in a complicated property swap when it built The Monstrosity, aka Grove Gardens Residence

When Aries received the permits to build that 5-storey mixed-use condo complex, which dwarfs the modest Stirrup House, it committed to restoring this culturally important 120-year old house. A later plan claimed it would become a Bed and Breakfast. Meanwhile, it has become blighted, undergoing Demolition by
Neglect ever since Falsetto got his grimy hands on it. One could almost say Aries has once again failed “to register a Blighted, unsecured, or abandoned structure,” but I’ll let the City of Miami take care of any official notices. I can only tell you what I have observed the last 5 years I have been photographing and researching the E.W.F. Stirrup House.

The E.W.F. appears to have an open door policy again.

While it’s hard to tell from this pic, the front door of the Stirrup House was left open again on Saturday night. The last time I found the front door wide open I took it as an invitation to walk right in, since the front gate had also been left wide open. Neither the property or the structure were secured. Had the gate been closed and locked, at the very least, the property would have been secured. But, that’s no longer the case.

That’s because the back wall of the Stirrup property was demolished the same day Aries Development [allegedly] illegally cut down all the old trees on the Stirrup Property. That 7-foot wall was not just a target for neighbourhood taggers, it separated The Monstrosity’s fancy schmancy restaurants — with valet parking and underground wine cellar — from the blighted E.W.F. Stirrup House, right next door. Nowadays anyone who goes to The Taurus, La Bottega, and/or Calamari (the three restaurants that Aries Group runs) can wander right past where the wall used to be, up to the blighted, unsecured and abandoned Stirrup House and walk right in, as I would have on Saturday night had I not already been pressed for time.

Demolition by Neglect is a tried and true tactic to destroy a property that sits in a developer’s way. The E.W.F. Stirrup House has always stood in Aries Development’s way. Despite more recent claims to want to turn the house into a Bed & Breakfast, Aries has done ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, unless you call [allegedly] illegally cutting down all the old trees on the Stirrup property, and demolishing the interior without a permit, absolutely nothing.

Speaking of Aries: It had been my understanding that when the Coconut Grove Playhouse deal had gone through back in January, the Bicycle Shop was turned over to the Aries Group as a way to remove it from the Gordian Knot that had become the Coconut Grove Playhouse collapse. So, imagine my surprise when the NOTICE (above) was issued to COCONUT GRV PLAYHOUSE LLC, which SunBiz doesn’t list. All similar names are Inactive. Who actually owns this property? You’d think the city would know.

No matter. As has already been demonstrated, Gino Falsetto has the Midas touch in reverse. Everything he touches appears to become blighted. Or bankrupt. Before he washed up in the over-heated Miami real estate market, Falsetto and his brothers bankrupt several restaurants in the Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, area.

Sitting right between the Stirrup House and the Bicycle Shop is ANOTHER blighted and boarded-up building in Coconut Grove: The Coconut Grove Playhouse. Just when it appeared that everything concerning that issue had been solved came these screaming headlines earlier this week:

Coconut Grove Playhouse $45 million complex run by Arsht Center Bad Deal
Second Coconut Grove Playhouse proposed
Civic Leaders Evolving Alternate More Ambitious $45 Mil Plan For Coconut Grove Playhouse

It’s far too early to tell what this will mean for Charles Avenue, which has been designated a Historic Roadway as the first street in Miami. I’ll be writing more about the Playhouse in the days to come. However, it’s hard not to see the ultimate winner could be Aries Development, which not only owns the Bicycle Shop, but also the two vacant lots immediately west of the Playhouse. These lots, which once had small shotgun houses on them, were snatched up in the same deal that gave Aries control of the E.W.F. Stirrup House. Any large development at the corner of Main Highway and Charles Avenue will only enrich a rapacious developer, at the expense of Coconut Groves’s rich cultural heritage.

About Headly Westerfield

Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.