Save The Gusman

Can Miami’s Original Flagship Stay Afloat?

Picture this: a scrawny high school kid, his too cute girlfriend, and her equally fetching best friend. The three are too young to really know anything, let alone admit it. But they do know enough to notice when something moves them, and to grab hold of that something with all of their open hearts. One night the trio finds themselves standing before a stage watching five chicks, not much older they are, roar at the world. The boy’s in the middle, and from the first chord his girl grabs hold of his hand. Unbeknownst to her, her best friend does likewise, at the very same time.

Neither of the kids are even aware of what they’re doing, the boy included, who, had he thought about it, would think he’d died and gone to guy heaven. They just know that, at that moment, they each need to hold on to someone else. What’s happening before them is so new, so powerful, so monumental, that it takes the touch of another to reassure them that they’re not alone at the immense wonder of it all.

The band before them is called The Runaways. The stage in question is at Gusman Center. And that boy in the middle was me.

Really.

I wish I could say the me in that picture was the kinda self-possessed sort to whom two girls were always simultaneously attracted, but I can’t. Okay, so maybe later I’d have my day; then though, the fact of the matter had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the magic of the moment. This was The Runaways, baby, live, loud, and in the leather-clad flesh, and all any of us could do was hold on.

No telling whether or not the girls in that story remember that night as vividly as I do, nor really if what I remember is all that accurate. But I can bet that there are legions of people out there who’ve got their own memories of that fabled place. And it’s a cinch that none of ‘em would be happy to see it go the way of the dodo. Thing is though, Miami’s first signature venue is experiencing some severe difficulties. And if something doesn’t happen soon, there may be no Gusman Center at all.

Born The Olympia way back in 1926 and now officially called the Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center for Performing Arts, the former silent movie palace means many things to Miamians, and all of them are special. My personal highlights happen to be The Runaways (and The Ramones), the restored Once Upon a Time in the West (nothing like a 20-foot close-up of Charles Bronson’s face), and the Rhythm Foundation’s presentation of Youssou N’Dour. Yours may be something else. The point is, we all share this common bond, and it would be culturally criminal to have it broken.

The question of course is money: Gusman needs it and the City of Miami doesn’t have it to give. According to Director Margaret Lake, their budget is $1.4 million, almost a third of which goes to utilities. According to the official number-crunchers, Miami no longer has it in the budget – or at least not as much of it.

On Tuesday afternoon a cadre of Miamians who call themselves Friends of the Gusman descended upon City Hall to plead with the powers-that-be, and after some poignant remarks from the likes of Alva Moore Parks, Commissioner Marc Sarnoff interrupted the pleadings to reveal a fact that most folks didn’t know: there was a savior waiting in the wings to save our beloved landmark, and all that was left to do was to file the appropriate papers.

Oddly, it’s the paperwork which seems to have gotten The Gusman in trouble to begin with. Both Alan Solis of Urban Icons and Laura Quinlan of The Rhythm Foundation went on record stating that the venue is prohibitive to outside productions in many ways, and one of those ways is the nearly insurmountable amount of paperwork each has to file before bringing in the kinda magical moments that make the Gusman such a special place. Furthermore, the costs are high, much higher than comparable venues, and there’s no opportunity of a co-production.

The Rhythm Foundation, in particular, has a personal stake in the fate of the place. Chief Laura Quinlan was a Gusman usher as a kid, and RF’s first production took place on its fabled stage. But she and her colleagues haven’t even attempted to produce shows there in many a moon.

“Though we would love to be an in-house presenter, “says Quinlan. “It’s just too hard to work there. And we are all about having a great experience from beginning to end. You can’t have that when the Parking Authority, which runs the Gusman, is towing our production vehicles, and our guests are being locked out of garages where they’ve parked their cars.”

Lake counters that with her meager budget they couldn’t co-produce anything, though she most certainly would like to do so one day. And, she hopes, the Knight Grant they’ve applied for will give the Gusman the opportunity to do just that. And yes, there is a reported savior waiting in the wings, but “until the contracts are signed and the money s in the bank” there’s still some uncertainty. What’s worse is this uncertainty is keeping even the flagship venue’s flagship events from committing, and that includes The Miami International Film Festival.

“We have a 150 day hold,” Lake told SunPost Weekly. “After that who knows? And while I trust the Commissioner when he says there’s a plan to save the Gusman, a lot of people are waiting to see how things play out.”

In two weeks the Miami City Commission meets to finalize the budget. Lake says she and The Friends of the Gusman will be there, insisting that things play out their way. With any luck so will the ghosts of concerts past, and they’ll look down on everyone and say ‘What, are you nuts? This is the jewel of Miami venues. Are you really gonna let it go?’

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