A Theatre District in Miami?

Currently, there is no theatre district. We have theatres spread throughout the county. In Miracle Mile, Coconut Grove, Miami Beach, and Downtown we have one theatre in each. However, there is no concentration of theatres as there is in NYC Broadway theatre district. I know that Miami is no New York City, but one can draw comparisons. In Miami, Park West is designated the Media and Entertainment district. Space nightclub has proven that the area can sustain a successful nightclub for years, and many other nightclubs are following the example. There are plans for restaurants in the area and more lounges. Telemundo is interested in placing a jumbotron in the district. Outdoor ads are already prevalent in the area. Now, it is a far cry from Times Square but currently it’s the closest thing we got to it. Importantly, in NYC as you head north from Times Square on Broadway, you enter the famed theatre district. It is quite a sight to behold. The whole area is thriving with the performing arts.

In Miami, there is an interesting parallel to the north of the Media and Entertainment District; the Performing Arts Center. The PAC has already drawn the development of the Anderson Opera house, which will be home to the Florida Grand Opera. Nearby buildings are being given names like Opera Tower. The area is clearly taking on a performing arts district identity. However, there is a problem. To the west of the PAC we have a neighborhood that could be known as the filthy district. Even considering the movement of the I-395 to the immediate north, we are still left with a cruddy neighborhood. There is nothing but underutilized buildings, abandoned warehouses, vacant lots, and one decent nightclub: Pawn Shop. The area cannot and will not remain in its current unacceptable status. What should happen is that the city should take into consideration the viability of designating it the theatre district and luring theatre troupes, acts, and permanent shows to the area. The city should figure out ways to provide incentives for these organizations to come to the area. The city should help create a buzz about the performing arts in the area that is not limited to the new PAC. The PAC is already getting built. Let us imagine beyond it.

This is just an idea. A damn good one I might add. It would create another vibrant touristy area that is easily accessible via the I-95 and 836. It would be a welcome addition to the community in general and a healthy contribution to the city’s cultural fold. Developers would salivate over the idea and immediately build nearby. They already are. We just can’t cal the area the performing arts district because there are three establishments dedicated to the art in the area. There have to be more. And the city cannot simply leave it up to private interest groups to take the initiative. The city should be the guiding force. Interestingly, I stumbled upon a website from FIU that included various visions of the same neighborhood created by urban planning and development students. This was obviously sponsored and encouraged by city officials. Although many of the visions were aesthetically pleasing, none of them presented a realistic approach towards solving the neighborhood niche problem. The area has not changed since. The city should stop wasting its time with these attempts at finding a creative solution to that neighborhood’s identity crisis. The answer is staring at them in the face: use the development of the PAC to help foster the development of a broader performing arts district. It would be conveniently situated to the north of the Media and Entertainment district and serve as a natural extension to it.

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4 Comments

Filed under Uptown: Media & Entertainment (PAC) District

4 responses to “A Theatre District in Miami?

  1. william

    Bob,
    you feel enthusiastic to see a plethora of art establishments blossom in down town Miami, but, when was the last time you spent money at an art show. That’s the problem:: people in Miami are too busy going to strip bars and buying shoes for thousands of dollars. The reason why the Northeast has a large option of performing arts is because the people are more culturally minded.
    Miami’s population doesn’t give a rat’s-ass about art and the subjective, cathartic experience that a performing arts culture offers.
    Just like a stadium for the Marlins; no demand, no supply.

  2. William, one shouldn’t generalize. There is a growing arts movement that deserves recognition and has in fact received it. Putting aside the obvious Art Basel event, which clearly indicates the international art community’s positive view of Miami’s spending potential in the realm of art acquisition, there is also the growing arts movement in the Wynwood neighborhood—there, art galleries are springing up everywhere. Miami just opened a world class cultural venue in the PAC, so that will inevitably lead to an increase in interest; at least in the performing arts—not to mention the construction of the Anderson Opera Center. Exhibits are constantly being held in the Design District, Coral Gables—where there are trolley tours of the galleries on the first Thursday night of every month, I believe—, and in Wynwood where there are so many new galleries that the area is now being referred to as the Wynwood Arts District. Granted, there is still a long way for Miami to go in order to be thought of as culturally and artistically rich, but as recently as 5 years ago it was thought a complete cultural backwater. Now, it has all of the aforementioned going for it—a long leap for a young city. I believe that the cultural evolution of Miami has manifested itself into a respectable and acclaimed arts movement although not yet mature.

  3. Christopher Jahn

    New York is an island: EVERYTHING is more concentrated there. AT any given moment, there are several million people within comfortable walking distance of any theatre in NY. They have 4 times as many people living in a sixth of the space.

    LA and Chicago don’t have theatre districts, either. In fact, few cities do. Sure, they have a number of theatres, but a real district? No. Manhattan’s unique geography and growth are the primary factors in creating the Great White Way.

    Coral Gables almost counts; there are in fact THREE theatres in Coral Gables, not one: Actors’ Playhouse, Gablestage, and New Theatre. They are within a square mile of each other, if not within walking distance. Just a few years ago, there were FIVE theatres.

    You also have to realize that there is a key difference between New York City and Miami: people go to New York to take a theatre holiday, nobody flies to Miami to see plays. We’re not a tourist destination for theatre-goers. Ours are regional theatres, and we serve our specific regions.

    Regional theatres traditionally offer a “mixed bill”season; a drama, a musical, a comedy, another musical, and maybe a classic. This is changing; now we see a trend towards “niche” theatres: Actors’ Playhouse is known for musicals, Gablestage presents modern classics, New Theatre finds edgier works, and so on. If you look across all of South Florida, you see the trend continues up through Palm Beach County.

    This approach to programming could work in a theatre district. But there would have to be financial incentives to do it; not only breaks in rent, but capital investment in performance spaces and in infrastructure to bring patrons in to a central location from all over the place quickly and painlessly through rush hour traffic.

  4. Great comment Chris! And, you’re right, NYC and Miami are vastly different. Certainly, NYC is probably the only place, in the country at least, that one could take a trip revolving around visiting theatres and Broadway shows. However, as you mentioned, NYC provides an excellent example of an ideal situation for theatre goers—where dozens of the creative venues are within convenient walking distance from one another. The Broadway area took many years to develop. Miami has instead opted to attempt to catapult itself into the cultural limelight by having the PAC built. The PAC has served as the catalyst for a growing interest in the performing arts in Miami, naturally. It has sparked the imaginations of developers who have quickly scrambled to develop project-niches that are influenced by the performing arts (opera tower, Anderson Opera Tower, the Chelsea, Symphony, etc.). In addition, the development of the Anderson Opera Center will supplement the PAC in its role to carve out a neighborhood niche for the performing arts. The city has designated the area surrounding the PAC as the Media and Entertainment District.

    The performing arts would certainly fall under the “entertainment” aspect. Currently, the neighborhood is still in ramshackle shape, recent acquisitions are picking up, and development is starting to spread westward in the form of Parc Lofts, Filling Station Lofts, Bayview Marketplace, and Max Tower to name a few. The city has to do more in encouraging developers to utilize the area for the performing arts. You are right in saying that there has to be a multi-pronged approach toward luring new performing arts establishments and helping foster their success. The infrastructure side of the coin is currently being worked on, and although there are quite a few ideas on the drawing board, most of which have little to no current financing, there is great interest in having the whole area overhauled with infrastructure and transit improvements. For developers, a mixed use development can include almost any type of commercial establishment, including theatres. Shows/troupes can be booked in advance, and this would have a significantly more powerful effect on the city than a bookstore, grocery store, or Starbucks. It might even a great selling angle. I wouldn’t be surprised if this happened given the current momentum. I’m certainly anticipating it.

    Already, the area will have the black box theatre, Ballet/Opera House, Symphonic Hall, and now Anderson Opera Center. What would really complete the evolution would be the establishment of private theatres/playhouses in the area. The city simply needs to lay the incentives and infrastructure groundwork, and developers and forward thinking entrepreneurs need to spearhead the effort. Currently, the area is a blank canvas, with a broad designation, but given its close proximity to the PAC and AOC, developers may likely follow the neighborhood niche trend in the form of new space for theatres. The MAX tower (Media and Art Exchange) has continued the niche trend, except not in the form of the performing arts. It is more than within the realm of possibility. Miami would be an ideal place for an international performing arts district. I’m sure that there are many local, national, and international troupes and shows that would find an ideal set up in such an area, and a successful initiative like this would add another dimension to both the city’s urban and cultural fold.

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