News: Public Can Help Shape Future of Gleason Theater

This Thursday, May 13, the public has the opportunity to share its thoughts on the future – or lack thereof – of the Jackie Gleason Theater. An open discussion is taking place at 6 pm in Hall ‘C’ at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

The meeting comes on the heels of a lively effort via email and such social networking sites as Facebook to rally support to “save the Gleason” from possible demolition.

“I didn’t even know it was in danger of being destroyed when I got asked to save it,” quipped Miami-Dade resident Janet Veracruz.

Veracruz has a special fondness for the Jackie Gleason Theater, now dubbed The Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater. Her first date with her now-husband was a concert at the performance venue named for one of Miami Beach’s greatest early icons.

But Veracruz said her first instinct was not to start buzzing friends to summon support for the theater.

“Honestly I didn’t at first believe anyone was serious about tearing it down,” Veracruz said. “That just seemed impossible.”

In fact, the demolition of the theater is indeed on the table, and the ensuing preservation hubbub presumable valid.

It should be an interesting public meeting. However, absolutely nothing will be decided as an outcome of the meeting.

“I am going to try and keep an open mind as these discussions move forward but I do not like the idea of tearing down such an important part of our history.” – Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Gongora

“If the project were phased, this would be the last phase,” said former Miami Beach Commissioner Saul Gross, now a convention center steering committee member. “If this were to ever happen, it would be 10 years from now, realistically.”

The demise of the Gleason emerged as an issue as part of the ongoing process of the committee considering a master plan to help the viability of the Miami Beach Convention Center. Project architectural firm, Arquitectonica, previously presented a master plan draft complete with a convention center hotel to be located on the northernmost section of the property, away from Lincoln Road and the new Lincoln Park development. However, a more recent proposal presented to the steering committee showed the proposed hotel repositioned to the current site of the Gleason.

“It was discussed by the committee and surprisingly there was no real dissent except that there should be some recognition of Gleason in a way appropriate to a new structure,” Gross said. “It would be an amazing location.”

Gross said that the new proposed location is superior to the original and would have a positive economic impact on Lincoln Road businesses. Still, he said, the hotel would be off of the water and no one has any idea of a developer would even be interested in such a proposal.

When the new proposal reached the public, many people reacted strongly and efforts to build support for preservation of the Gleason were launched.

Thus, Thursday’s meeting for public input.

“Let’s hear what people have to say about the idea,” Gross said.

A hotel component is part of a city wish list for a convention center master plan. The overall vision is redevelopment to enhance the convention center facilities to the point where it could again compete for small and mid-size conventions. The convention center has increasingly been unable to lure enough business to be legitimately economically viable.

However, there is no identified funding for convention center improvements except the possibility that a moderate available stream at Miami-Dade County could be secured. Miami Beach is essentially planning to send Miami-Dade a master plan proposal in the hopes that funding could be discovered on one side of the bay or the other.

Some sources with connections to city hall have quietly asserted that the most likely means of funding is the further extension of Miami Beach’s city center redevelopment designation. Miami-Dade County, though, might not want to agree to permit Miami Beach to keep the lion’s share of tax revenue collected in the redevelopment area.

No one has been willing to officially float the redevelopment agency plan on the record, yet.

All of which has in the past prompted the affable Gross to wonder if the committee members aren’t engaging in a creative and enjoyable process – with no real results in the end.

“The convention center master plan is good but it requires money and there isn’t any identified for it,” Gross said.

Other factors complicate the possible demolition of the Gleason. Among these is a long-term contract with LiveNation, currently the operator of the Gleason. Although Gross said it is no secret that the Gleason is doing poorly financially, the arrangement with LiveNation provides a fixed return to the city, and the contract is valid for several more years.

Of course, there is also the matter of building consensus for the proposed change.

“Like many, I consider the Jackie Gleason to be an important part of our history in Miami Beach,” said Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Gongora. “My immediate reaction to this idea was to oppose it.  I am going to try and keep an open mind as these discussions move forward but I do not like the idea of tearing down such an important part of our history.

“Also, Miami Beach has made great strides towards creating a true cultural campus – from the New World Symphony’s new Frank Gehry designed music theater, to the improvements being made to the Miami Beach Botanical Gardens and the creation of a true arts district leading into Collins Park where we have the Bass Museum and the Miami City Ballet,” Gongora continued. “I believe a world class theater is also an important part of staying true to this vision.”

Janet Veracruz has a hard time imagining south Florida without the Gleason.

“Trying to change the name was bad enough,” she said. “I guess there isn’t anything that’s sacred when it comes to our history.”

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