The Coconut Grove Playhouse Deal Begins to Unfold

The removal of the old growth trees on the E.W.F. Stirrup property was only one in a series of chess moves made virtually simultaneously as the Coconut Grove Playhouse deal begins to unfold.

On January 15th Aries Development took possession of the Bicycle Shop, that small, two story structure sitting at the northeast corner of the Playhouse parking lot. Aries was ‘gifted’ this property (and $15,000) to relinquish all claims on the Playhouse. The mystery had always been why this building had been put into play in order to settle the outstanding issues necessary to restore and reopen the Playhouse.

Sources tell Not Now Silly that when the now defunct Playhouse board accepted the loan from Aries years ago, it put up the Bicycle Shop as collateral. That’s how Aries came to hold the note on the Bicycle Shop; why it was in play already; and why it may have just been easier to give Aries this bone, than to have it continue to scuttle every deal to bring the Playhouse back to its former glory.

[One of these days I will actually discover how much money Aries loaned the defunct Playhouse board. That’s just another one of those pesky details that has remained concealed by all the boardroom and backroom machinations. These took place far away from the prying eyes of Florida’s strict Sunshine Laws. In other words: There’s so much about this deal we know nothing about and peeling back the onion has been a chore.]

The funny thing about Aries getting possession of the Bicycle Shop is that the building had already been condemned. The City of Miami loaded the property up with violation after violation, until it decided that it was an unsafe structure that had to be removed. However, that was something of a chess move on the part of the city in order to get a seat at the table. Because Miami-Dade County was running the Playhouse negotiations, the City of Miami would have been frozen out entirely. Having these tens of thousand of dollars in fines levied against the property gave the City of Miami a buy-in at this High Stakes table. When eventually the poker game was played to untangle the financial mess the Playhouse had become, holding cards were the state of Florida, which had to sign off on any deal; Miami–Dade County; the City of Miami; Aries Development; GableStage; FIU; and the former-Playhouse board, or what was left of it. Not seated at the table: Any representative from the community being served. In short: The taxpayers and neighbourhood stakeholders.

One of dozens of pictures taken inside the construction
zone. It seems fitting the floor looks like a chess board.

Regardless, once Miami was satisfied with the deal, the city pushed in all its chips and folded its hand. It wiped clean the condemned Bicycle Shop’s slate of all fines and deeded it to over to the marauding Aries Development Group. Consequently, Aries needed to act quickly, before new citations and violations start piling up against the building. To that end, it has already removed the roof from the Bicycle Shop.

Unfortunately for Aries Development that’s all that was done, creating a brand new problem for Gino Falsetto’s company. The demolition crew neglected to fence in the destruction site, [allegedly] breaking several city by-laws in the process. It’s currently open to the public for private tours. Anyone can wander in and out of the building, as this reporter did on Tuesday, February 25th. As well, Not Now Silly
has not been able to locate a demolition permit, nor does there appear
to be a permit for having a dumpster on the property. Aries is certainly
keeping Bylaw Enforcement busy this week.

See a photo album, inside and outside, of [alleged]
violations at the Bicycle Shop on February 25, 2014.
View videos of the unprotected construction zone:

Word is that Gino Falsetto wants to put a small restaurant in this building, but it would have to be a VERY small eatery. There’s not much one can do with 1600 square feet. That’s barely big enough for a small coffee shop. Restaurant, coffee shop, art gallery? Whatever Aries wants to do with this property is going to require permits and telling Not Now Silly that it’s all “in the pipeline” just doesn’t cut it. The laws are quite specific to demolition and this week Aries Development has already demolished a wall at the E.W.F. Stirrup House without a permit, hacked 4 old growth tress to the ground without a permit and is now running this unsafe destruction site without a permit — and without sealing it off from the public!!!

However, turning the Bicycle Shop into a restaurant makes sense because that’s another cash business. Gino Falsetto [allegedly] learned how lucrative restaurants can be when he (and his brothers) bankrupted four of them in the Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, area. When the government finally moved in to seize the assets (cash in the till and the cutlery, essentially), Canadians lost an estimated $1,000,000.00 in unpaid taxes. However, that’s chump change compared to what Falsetto’s investors lost. That figure is estimated to be upwards of ten million dollars. And then, next thing you know, Gino Falsetto has enough resources after his business went bankrupt to buy his way into the hot Miami real estate market.

Of course, it has to be said, that there are many honest and reputable restaurant owners. In fact, the vast majority are. However, that doesn’t mean that restaurant ownership has not been known as a source of illegal profit skimming. Just sayin’.

This sign is supposedly gone on March 1st

Speaking of cash businesses, that brings us to the Playhouse parking lot. On March 1st the Miami Parking Authority (MPA) will take over control of the Playhouse parking lot. On February 25th the new signage was being erected. However, most of the old signs hadn’t been removed yet.

Who had the parking concession until now?

Double Park, Paradise Parking, and Caribbean Parking. Bring Truth To Light has written extensively about Gino Falsetto; his several various partners in several various companies; Aries Development Group; shady Coconut Grove real estate deals; and this particular parking lot. It’s worth quoting extensively:

Double Park LLC

Behind the mess created by Aries is one of the new MPA signs

Gino Falsetto founded Double Park LLC on July 12, 2004 and filed his Florida limited liability company with the Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations. The company’s FEI/EIN number is 861112258. The address is The Grand, 1717 N Bayshore Drive, Suite 102, Miami, FL 33132. Falsetto is the company’s sole manager and registered agent.

In 2006, Mitchell Liss took over as manager and Anthony Petropoulos became registered agent.

In 2007, the company moved to Suite 201 on the second floor in The Hilton Doubletree Grand condominium.

In 2009, Mitchell Liss also took on the role of registered agent.

The incredulous real estate promoter presents a big plan that arouses excitement. The Miami Herald reported Gino Falsetto “floated a last-minute, $55 million-plus proposal to build a new, 600-seat theater behind the historic façade, and add retail and residential buildings as well as an underground parking garage.”

In yet another Miami Herald article Jorge Luis Lopez, a Playhouse board member, was quoted to call Falsetto’s Aries company “a deadbeat squatter,” characterizing Falsetto’s relationship with the Playhouse’s board of directors.

Paradise Parking Systems LLC

Mitchell Liss founded Paradise Parking Systems LLC on December 19, 2005 and filed his Florida limited liability company with the Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations. The company’s FEI/EIN number is 204281994. The address is 19810 West Dixie Highway, N Miami Beach, FL 33180. Liss is the company’s sole manager and registered agent.

In 2007, Anthony Petropoulos became the registered agent and the company’s new address is Suite 201 at The Grand.

In 2009, Mitchell Liss also took on the role of registered agent.

Caribbean Parking Systems Inc

John Battaglia founded Caribbean Parking Systems Inc on February 25, 2002 and filed his Florida profit corporation with the Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations. The company’s FEI/EIN number is 270077530. The address is 2874 NE 191 Street, Suite 304, Aventura, FL 33180. Battaglia is the company’s sole director and Robert Stok is the registered agent.

In 2007, Mitchell Liss became the company’s sole director, president, and registered agent. The company’s new address is Suite 201 at The Grand.

Miami Parking Authority CEO Art Norieaga addresses
the Coconut Grove Village Council on February 25, 2014

Bring Truth To Light has also called on the government to investigate how
these three companies came to squat on the Playhouse parking lot, how long they have claimed the concession, and whether it had benefit of a contract with the Playhouse board. Coconut Grove has a shortage of parking, so during some Special Events, this parking lot was filled.

Every company pie that Gino Falsetto has his fingers into is always a
complicated rabbit warren of other companies and fronts. But, I digress.

Not only did these three companies collect the fees from this parking lot, but also had cars booted and/or towed for parking on this lot and not paying. If it’s true, as it’s beginning to appear, that Double Park, Paradise Parking, and Caribbean Parking had no authority to do so, every tow from that lot was an organized crime against the car’s owner. How many people using that parking lot were scammed by these three companies?

With Aries losing its precious parking lot tomorrow, how will it remain in that cash business, especially since his restaurants on the ground floor of The Monstrosity known as the Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums advertise Valet Parking? A partial answer was given at the latest Coconut Grove Village Council meeting on February 25th. Art Noriega of the Miami Parking Authority gave a presentation on all Coconut Grove parking lots, including the Playhouse parking issues being investigated by Bring Truth to Light and Now Now Silly. He told the assembled that the city made an accommodation with Aries for Valet Parking. It was a such a quick reference, this reporter was not sure that they heard the proper context for the remark.

45 spaces in that oddly shaped area are to be rented by Aries Group

Contacted by phone after the meeting, Noriega elaborated, confirming to Not Now Silly that Aries will be renting 45 parking spaces from the city, at $45 a month, for a total of $2,025. [At $6.00 a car, Aries will have to turn each space over 7.5 times in a month to break even.] These spaces are apparently not any of those between the north end of the Playhouse and the south end of the Bicycle Shop. The parking spaces being rented from the city by Aries are those on the paved area immediately to the west of the Playhouse (in the irregular shape in the Earth View on the right). The Valet Parking arrangement with the city is on a month-to-month basis and, certainly, when (if?) the Playhouse property becomes a renovation zone, Aries won’t be able to Valet Park there.

Which brings us to the last 3 properties that Aries is known to control on Charles Avenue: the two vacant lots on the north of Charles Avenue, which are owned by a shell company owned by Gino Falsetto; and the E.W.F. Stirrup property, which Aries controls through a 50-year lease with the Stirrup Family, the owners of record on the house. Last week the Stirrups were cited for the destroying 4 old growth trees on the Stirrup property, even though the destruction was wrought by Gino Falsetto’s Aries Development. Aries also cut down 3 trees on the vacant lots across the street and demolished the wall separating The Monstrosity from the E.W.F. Stirrup House.

All of this wanton destruction was done without benefit of the proper permit(s). The city levied fines of $1,000 per tree and Aries will have to plant 2 trees for every tree destroyed, but the damage is already done and only time will bring back century old trees.

The Monstrosity, aka Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums, was built by
rapacious developer Aries Group.That 5-story wall (on the right) dwarfs the
understated 2-story 120-year old E.W.F. Stirrup House that the same marauding
developer has allowed to undergo Demolition by Neglect for the past 8 years.

While there are no plans on file with the city — or the Historical Preservation Board, for that matter — Not Now Silly has been told they are “in the pipeline,” whatever that means. In practice it means that Gino Falsetto is holding his cards very close to his vest, [allegedly] breaking all kinds of city By-Laws which require permits and plans before work commences, not after. Coconut Grove won’t know his hole cards, until he’s ready to play his hand. In other words: People will learn of his plans when he’s damned good and ready to reveal them, even if it can’t be fixed, like the trees.

So, what’s the plan for these last properties. Everything beyond this point is mere speculation and rumour, based upon keen observation and unconfirmed tips from anonymous sources:

Demolishing the wall is the first step for Aries Group to expand the restaurant/bar/wine bar seating at The Monstrosity into the Stirrup property. However, one would think the first steps would be the demolition permit, not to mention a permit to change the seating in the restaurants and another permit to alter the capacity on the various bar licenses [Taruus, La Bottega, etc.] in The Monstrosity. There are several carts that have been put before the horse. But at least those pesky old growth trees are no longer in the way, right?

However, since that work has already commenced, I sure hope the city of Miami Code Enforcement officers continue watching.

What else? At least one of those lots on the north side of Charles Avenue is being eyed by Aries as a “flat parking lot” in the future, according to my source. It was also cleared of vegetation last week in the Great Miami Tree Massacre™. This makes sense since Aries was forced to cash in its chips on the Playhouse parking lot and will lose its seat at the table if and when the Playhouse ever gets restored.

However, it makes sense for Aries to try and get this approved as a parking lot. If Falsetto ever gets plans approved to renovate the historic site of the
E.W.F. Stirrup House into a Bed and Breakfast and outdoor restaurant (according to other sources), it will
need additional parking facilities for their rich customers. Especially when it loses the 45 spaces behind the Playhouse. However, my source tells me that’s an impossibility. The current zoning
prevents that. The fact that Charles Avenue was a designated a Historic Roadway should also prevent that from ever becoming a parking lot.

Furthermore, several neighbours from several houses along Charles Avenue (who spoke to Not Now Silly on the condition of anonymity) are so angry at the destruction of the trees that they’ve vowed to watch developments on the Stirrup property very carefully from now on. All of them had questions about the E.W.F. Stirrup House because they were full of misinformation. That lack of concrete information allows Falsetto to bluff his way though the game.

The metaphors in this blog post are mixed. Is it a chess game or is this a High Stakes poker game? To Miami and Miami-Dade county it’s been a poker game, where every hand is a new hand. Gino Falsetto is playing a longer game, chess, going for the checkmate. Long before anyone realized what he had done he swallowed up all the property surrounding the E.W.F. Stirrup House and the Coconut Grove Playhouse. He always seems to be several moves ahead of everybody else. Hopefully, not the sheriff, because the more I investigate Gino Falsetto and his business ethics, the more I am convinced he belongs in jail.

Join the Facebook group Save the E.W.F. Stirrup House for updates.

About Headly Westerfield

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

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