News: The Palace Clears Another Hurdle

South Beach’s popular restaurant and nightspot The Palace cleared another major hurdle last week in its effort to retain its long-standing weekend drag shows.

The Miami Beach Commission’s Land Use Committee approved sending two potential options to the full commission for consideration at an upcoming meeting. Either option would permit the show to continue in the style that has helped define the Palace over the course of its 20-plus-year history.

“It went great — everyone is happy with how things went,” said Palace General Manager Ivan Cano. “It still has to pass at commission but we’re happy with the direction it is going.”

 At issue was the show component that regularly sees the performers take to the city sidewalk to extend the cabaret to patrons seated on the patio — and to passersby. The Palace’s conditional use permit does not permit use of the public right-of-way, and the shows have prompted noise complaints from neighboring property the Tides South Beach hotel.

However, the nature of that permit might be changed as a result of one of the two recommendations the City Commission will ponder.

“There are two different proposals that the commission will consider to allow the Palace to use sidewalks and public space,” said Land Use Commission Committee Chair Michael Gongora. “Option one would allow it as part of the conditional use permit that they already have. Option two would be to just legalize the use — to effectively change zoning for the strip along 12th – 13th Streets.”

Gongora said the first option is being recommended by the city administration and the second is not. The rezoning option is not being recommended because it could be interpreted as spot zoning.

“I’m fine with either one,” Gongora, a Palace supporter, said. “I like the decision and both options will be on the table for the commission to consider.”

Cano said he could not comment on the two specific proposals or which might be preferable. However, he was upbeat about the decision and was happy that members of the community turned out at the committee meeting to support the Palace.

“It shows we in the gay community are being supported because of our 20-year history at the Palace,” Cano said. “We were happy to see that some of our neighbors turned out in our support.”

Not everyone at the meeting was supportive. Representatives of the Tides continued to push back against the Palace on the issue of noise. One speaker also complained that extending the shows to the sidewalks endangered elderly residents.

Still, it has been the issue with the Tides that has prompted the Palace’s efforts to get specific permission for the weekend drag shows to continue as they have for several years.

The week before the Land Use Committee meeting, the city’s Planning Board agreed to an alteration of the Palace’s conditional use permit. As a result, nightly shows are ending earlier but a show has been added during the Palace’s popular Sunday Brunch.

But also at that meeting, the Planning Board mandated that the Palace meet and dialogue with Tides representatives to resolve their dispute. Some nightlife and business observers have quietly questioned whether the impasse can be bridged or if the city is simply delaying having to step back in.

“Being told you have to talk to someone and work it out doesn’t mean it’s going to be resolved,” said a source close to the situation who did not want to be identified.

The conflict — or at least disagreement — between the longtime South Beach establishment and the Tides has become a rallying cry for the dwindling Miami Beach gay community. A “Save the Drag Queens” movement garnered a flicker of national exposure earlier this year, and key figures in the gay community have gathered at the periphery of the debate.

In published reports, though, Los Angeles-based Viceroy Hotel Group, which owns the Tides, has consistently stated that its complaint is with noise and not with the nature of the shows.

Cano believes the problem really isn’t a gay-straight issue and has said the shows continue to represent the kind of innocent, harmless fun that made Miami Beach a leading tourist destination in the first place.

Some have said the real issue is Miami Beach as it was as opposed to what it is becoming: quirky, colorful, unique and yes, a bit gay, versus corporate, stodgy and entirely upscale.

“It’s inevitable that the two sides of the Beach today will come into conflict,” said the unidentified source.

The story has even been at the center of discussions on the other side of the causeway in Miami, which is often cited as being a whole different universe by longtime Beach residents.

“It does sound like it’s old-time Beach fun versus the uber-high-end destination thing that the city has become,” said Miami resident and occasional Beach reveler Antonio Lopez. “My friends and I used to go over to the Beach all the time because it was the hot place and you could have a good time. Now it is all $18 mojitos and valet parking. It’s gone all corporate. Not really unique anymore. Could be anywhere if not for the architecture at least.”

Despite any old Beach – new Beach conflict, both sides of the Palace debate seem at least mildly hopeful that a resolution can be found.

“We’re working hard to foster a better relationship with our neighbor,” Cano said. “I believe the key element is that we all need to work together. People need to meet in the middle… or at least to meet at the table.”

The attorney representing the Tides owner referred a request for comment to Tides General Manager Shan Kanagasingham, who responded in an email to the SunPost.

“As always, our intent is to work together with the Palace Bar to find a mutually acceptable solution for the enjoyment of all of our guests,” wrote Kanagasingham. “We look forward to continuing a constructive dialogue in the hopes of addressing our mutual interests to provide a great and multifaceted Ocean Drive experience.”

The Miami Beach City Commission is expected to take up the issue of the Palace performances in the next few weeks.

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