West Grove, the historic Black enclave nestled within Coconut Grove, Miami, Florida, is currently threatened on all sides by White gentrification.
The latest challenge is the massive Coconut Grove Playhouse condo/restaurant/parking lot/theater redevelopment project threatening West Grove.
The Playhouse is at the extreme east end of Charles Avenue. It was designated a Historic Roadway because it is one of Miami’s oldest streets. It was laid out slightly out of true east/west alignment by E.W.F. Stirrup, who almost single-handed, created this neighbourhood and watched over its survival until he died in 1957. Stirrup was one of Florida’s first Black millionaires and at one time owned more properties in Coconut Grove than anyone else.
This reporter has been researching Charles Avenue and Main Highway since February 2009. Here are just a few of the stories from the archive.
When the Miami Historic Environment Preservation [HEP] Board voted earlier this month to demolish the theater, it took another step in destroying history in order to pay lip service to preserving it. This is the same thing the HEP did with the E.W.F. Stirrup House, catercorner to the back of the Playhouse, on south side of Charles. This magnificent century-old house has now been replaced — NOT RESTORED! — because the HEP will roll over for developers, history be damned.
The Coconut Grove Playhouse — just like the Stirrup House — underwent nearly a decade of Demolition by Neglect. The Coconut Grove Playhouse’s developers — just like the Stirrup House’s developers — were then able to argue that extreme deterioration of the structure required it to be torn down.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
TO BE FAIR: The Playhouse developers were also able to argue the theater was renovated so many times since originally built, that it no longer was the old theater anymore. That was an argument only the HEP seemed to buy.
Ironically, the same could have been argued for the E.W.F. Stirrup House, which (according to anecdotal evidence) grew from a small 1-story Conch House to the impressive 2-story structure as Mr. Stirrup’s family and fortune grew.
However, that’s all water under the bridge.
Once the HEP approved the massive Playhouse redevelopment (in concept only) it became immediately clear how this Black neighbourhood will bear the brunt of that decision.
When it came time to build a polluting incinerator in Miami, it was given to West Grove. Almost 100 years later, when it came time to build a polluting diesel bus maintenance facility, it was given to West Grove. And now, when a massive development project is proposed for Main Highway, the negative effects will be born by West Grove.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
A quick word about these Coconut Grove Condo-Retail-Restaurant-Parking Garage-Playhouse Megaplex drawings:
Before the HEP Board approved demolishing the historic Coconut Grove Playhouse on April 4th, the developers put on the typical Dog and Pony Show. During the hours-long meetings the community and HEB Board were presented with a confusing array of facts and figures, along with blue prints and artist’s renderings. These cane be found HERE. show that there will be entrances to the loading docks on Charles Avenue and William Avenue, one block to the north.
Just before the HEP voted it was revealed that all of the drawings just shown were already out of date, supplanted by another set of drawings, with different facts and figures, that no one had seen yet.
And the HEP Board still passed it. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Meanwhile, I have found newer drawings online at the Miami-Dade Department of Cultural Affairs public portal, which were posted on April 10th. Now, get this: I have been told that these drawings are already out of date. However, until I finagle the latest from one of my sources, these will have to do.
How will West Grove suffer?
The latest drawings show that Charles Avenue [A, to the right] will be the entrance for all trucks with something to pick up, or take away from the Coconut Grove Condo-Retail-Restaurant-Parking Garage-Playhouse Megaplex.
Trucks will turn in from Main Highway [B] to [F}, where an entire complex of loading docks and garbage pickup will be competing for space. The drawing does show a small bit of landscaping to try and make it disappear, but it will always be a loading dock and garbage pickup on Charles Avenue.
It’s instructive to note that putting this driveway on Charles leaves the maximum amount of space on the north side of the building for the mixed use Condo/Retail/Restaurant/Parking Lot/Theater Megacomplex. All at the expense of Charles Avenue, which has been designated a Historic Roadway, just to remind you.
Lately beer trucks serving the restaurants in The Monstrosity, aka Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums, have been pulling onto Charles Avenue and parking opposite the driveway to the E.W.F. Stirrup House [G]. From there the deliveries are loaded onto a hand cart and taken it through the parking lot of the Regions Bank on the corner, across from [F]. If the Stirrup House ever gets an occupancy permit, they’ll be able to walk it through the Stirrup property instead, saving time and energy.
Oddly enough, loading docks were not required for The Monstrosity, even though the plan was always to have restaurants on the ground floor that would require deliveries. In addition, beer trucks will never be allowed to pull up in front of The Monstrosity, because that would hinder the valet parking concession.
Once the Playhouse is redeveloped — with its 31 apartment units [D], restaurant [between D & E], gargantuan 449 slot parking garage [C], and small 300 theater [E] — it will generate a massive amount of garbage. There will have to be daily pickup, if not pickup twice a day.
Let me draw your attention to the two empty lots marked [H] on the pic above. Immediately behind the Charles Avenue Historic Marker are 3227 and 3247 Charles Avenue, which are zoned single family residential. There had once been houses on those lots; a Conch on one and a Shotgun on the other. These were demolished in order to use the double lot as a marshaling yard to build The Monstrosity a decade ago.
TO BE FAIR: This made more sense than having the construction traffic on Main Highway, but the neighbouthood still lost 2 affordable houses that have never been replaced.
I wrote about these two empty lots in Another Charles Avenue Bad Neighbour Update, after I discovered that the valet concessions were illegally using these residential lots to park dozens of cars, the overflow to an event in the Cruz Building, on Commodore Plaza.
These 2 lots are not part of the footprint of Playhouse redevelopment. Yet, everyone recognizes how they would square off the Playhouse property. However, there are too many hoops to jump through for that to ever happen. Regardless, that did not stop developer Peter Gardner, of the Pointe Group/Colliers International, from dropping a half million dollars a piece to speculate that these two lots will skyrocket in value.
FULL DISCLOSURE: When I met with Peter Gardner last year I sandbagged him. Having learned he had recently signed on as a developer of the Stirrup House, I booked a sit down interview with him. After some preliminaries on the Stirrup House, I shifted to these two Charles lots and then all the property he either owns or controls on Grand Avenue.
Please read my ongoing series Unpacking Grand Avenue
Garner was surprised that I was able to relate the history of these two empty lots and how the people he bought them from may have broken the law to get them. He suggested that it’s possible he hadn’t performed his due diligence on the properties. I assured him that no one, least of all the banks that appear to have been snookered, cared at all.
Then he appeared shocked when I pulled out my handmade map of Grand Avenue, with all the properties identified and colour-coded by owner.
And, I know he was stunned when I told him that I would fight him tooth and nail to prevent these Charles Avenue lots from being zoned for anything other than single family. TO BE FAIR: I warned him at the top of the interview that I was an advocacy journalist. This is just one of the things I advocate about.
But, I digress. One of the latest ideas for these two lots is to turn it into some kind of car turn-a-round for all the swells going to the Playhouse. Imagine the traffic this would generate. However, this idea seems as absurd an the other rumour around: That Michael Eidson’s 2-theater plan would need these two lots to expand into for something or sundry. Both ideas seem like non-starters.
Regardless, no developer drops a million dollars on 2 lots unless he thinks there’s a payoff at the end of the day. Small single family houses on these long and narrow lots will never be able to pay for themselves. That’s why eventually Miami Planning and Zoning will be called upon to either rezone the lots to Multi-Family or Commercial use. The owner of these 2 contiguous lots would need no variance to build a monster home straddling the properties, but it would be hard to make any money doing that.
And, if Not Now Silly has learned anything in the 8 years covering Miami, it’s that developers always seem to get what they ask for. Even if it contravenes the Miami21 plan and offends the NCD2 oe NCD3 neighbourhood overlays. Yeah, I’m looking at you, Planning and Zoning.
Bottom line: There’s nothing in this massive redevelopment project for the people who live in West Grove. When all is said and done, this historic neighbourhood will be forced to deal with all the negative fallout of the project, without any of the benefits. The developers are now paying lip service to putting affordable housing in the project. There were also mutterings about hiring from within the community. However, these are promises that every developer in Miami gives to get permission to build, but never seem to deliver upon.
There will be an educational component to the theater program because that was mandated by the State of Florida. But nothing said they’ll educate children in the immediate community. The theater company, GableStage — which I have heard nothing but good things about — comes from outside the community, Coral Gables. [Please see my series No Skin In The Game; Part I; Part II; Part III] Because of the relative poverty of West Grove (due to decades of systemic racism) it’s unlikely the folks there will be able to afford the $45 tickets to any of the plays GableStage currently offers. I know I would have to budget hard for something like that.
District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell needs to be more vocal and proactive about these neighbourhood concerns and how this project will negatively effect West Grove. In a recent encounter this reporter asked Russell whether he has a public stance on the Playhouse redevelopment project. He declined to give me a quote because it’s an issue he may one day find himself ruling on. However, there are some aspects of this massive redevelopment that he can comment on. Chief among them, is the increased truck and car traffic on the quiet residential streets of West Grove.
I already know what Miami-Dade and the Miami Parking Authority will say, because it’s been done before. They will claim, “We didn’t hear any complaints.” It’s unlikely they will hear complaints from the West Grove. These are people who have been ignored and marginalized for decades. After nearly a century of systemic racism, they’ve stopped complaining.
That’s why they need a champion, a Commissioner who will not ignore their travails.
This is a Miami-Dade project, not a City of Miami project. This means that Commissioner Russell has very little power to protect the historic West Grove neighbourhood from the fallout from this massive project on its doorstep. But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t try.
My Freedom of Information requests from the City of Miami are beginning to add up, not to mention all the other costs of researching systemic racism and corruption in Coconut Grove