News: Portman CMC Will Not Demolish the Jackie Gleason Theater

After mounting opposition, Portman CMC has reversed their stance on demolishing the Jackie Gleason Theater.

The official announcement was made on Wednesday, almost a month after receiving a bruising reception by pro-theater activists at a March community meeting.

“The Miami Beach community has been very vocal in public meetings, in the media and online,” said Jack Portman of Portman Holding in a statement. “The residents made it clear that The Jackie Gleason Theater is an important landmark they want to keep.”

Portman CMC is one of two groups still vying for the right to redevelop the 52-acre Convention Center district. When the city sent out a request for qualifications it made clear that the main objective was to modernize the aging convention center, and nearly everything in that district was fair game, including the Fillmore. South Beach ACE, the other competitor, decided from the start to keep the theater and make improvements including opening up of the theater’s back facade. Portman CMC on the other hand envisioned demolishing it and putting the on-site hotel in its place.

Those plans, so close to their final presentation in Mid-May, have been scrapped.

According to the statement, the renovations to the Jackie Gleason Theater would include: opening up access points on all four sides of the building, creating a performance arts education center on the west wing, establishing a Cirque du Soleil themed gymnastics facility called a Jukari, upgrading the technical aspects of the theater, and introducing a new local themed Cirque du Soleil show.

That last bit has struck fear in the hearts of music fans in the community. The idea that a Cirque show would muscle out current musical acts has been the most often given reason to oppose Portman CMC’s original vision.

 A Facebook group to save the Fillmore doubled in size in a couple of weeks. It now hovers over 1,200 as of print time.

 Lauren Reskin, owner of Sweat Records, has been the most vocal opponent of the Portman CMC plan and she is still not ready to abandon the cause after Wednesday’s announcement.

“It’s great that they realized that the building is worth saving, but it’s still worth more to our community as a concert venue than a place for Cirque du Soleil,” she said to the SunPost.

“We enjoy the variety of the concerts that come, we don’t want it to be centered around one show,” Reskin told the SunPost.

Portman CMC is trying to change that perception, instead they say their Cirque show would be an addition to the current operator’s, Live Nation, slate of shows.

Erin Mulholland, a spokeswoman for Portman CMC, described Cirque’s addition as an “enhanced benefit” that would expand the content of the theater.

In official communications by the group, they indeed have maintained that the Cirque du Soleil would be a piece and not the whole. Still some don’t see that mix working.

“I think it is unrealistic with the nature of bookings,” Reskin told the SunPost. “We are disadvantaged geographically on the bottom of Florida, it’s really hard to get bands down here period, much less on specific nights when it’s not a Cirque du Soleil show.”

Keeping the Jackie Gleason Theater has realigned the Portman map. Now the hotel will be integrated into the convention center itself. The entrance would be on the west side on Washington Avenue, while rooms would crop up on the south end of the center.

Lead Architect Bjarke Ingels released a statement endorsing the change in design as compatible to the group’s original vision.

“This change will keep the enhanced vitality and diversity of our square and further strengthen our core idea of creating a convention center that isn’t isolated in vast empty spaces,” he said.

Finally, the plans also call for a statue of “The Great One,” Jackie Gleason, to adorn the groups.

The next Convention Center meeting is Tuesday, May 14, at 10:30 a.m. In the Hall C Ballroom.

About Frank Maradiaga

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