A coalition of resident-activists in Miami Beach declared victory Wednesday night after the City Commission rejected a proposal to sell the Byron Carlyle Theater to a developer planning to build apartments and a cultural center.
The city’s two-year process seeking development of the city-owned theater came to a screeching halt during a video meeting that began with passionate demands from residents and ended with a frustrated commissioner abruptly leaving the call.
The commission voted 5-1 to reject the proposal from developers Menin Hospitality and KGTC, which called for the sale of the North Beach property and the construction of a complex with 151 apartments and a 12,000-square-foot public cultural facility.
“It’s a victory for the residents,” said Manning Salazar, a local activist who spearheaded the effort to kill the deal. “The neighborhood was really against this.”
The developers — led by Keith Menin, Jared Galbut, Matis Cohen and Marisa Galbut — were the only remaining bidders on Miami Beach’s 2019 request for proposals to redevelop the theater. They spent about six months negotiating a term sheet with the city before the plan was presented to the commission Wednesday. For commissioners, securing a top-tier cultural facility — perhaps with black box and traditional theaters — was the primary goal for the project.
The resulting “best and final offer” ultimately fell short of what the commissioners envisioned for the theater, which has been closed since 2019 after falling into disrepair.
Commissioners’ outstanding issues included a desire for adequate parking at the site and a demand by the developer to consider allowing market-rate units and short-term rentals at the apartment building instead of rent-controlled workforce housing. The developer also proposed to buy the land outright as opposed to leasing it for 99 years as they originally proposed.
“It’s a pretty good deal but it’s certainly not a perfect one,” Mayor Dan Gelber said.
The city purchased the theater in 2001 for $1.7 million. The value of the existing site is between $4.7 million and $6 million, according to an appraisal ordered by the city.
But for North Beach residents, who remember when the 1960s-era theater was the main theater in Miami Beach, the value of keeping the venue in public hands and restoring it to its past glory can’t be quantified by an appraisal.
“This should be the end of the road for this predatory proposal,” said Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, whose petition to save the theater has nearly 2,000 signatures. “If it is not we will continue to fight.”
Early on in the meeting, it became clear that supporters of the project did not have enough votes to approve it.
If the commission voted in favor of the deal Wednesday with a simple majority, it would have undergone technical reviews from a land-use board before returning to the commission for a final vote. Because the proposal involved the sale of public land, affirmative votes from six of the seven commissioners would have been required to approve the sale during the final vote.
Gelber tipped the vote against the developer after Commissioners Mark Samuelian, Michael Góngora and Micky Steinberg signaled their opposition to the deal. Commissioners David Richardson and Ricky Arriola supported the deal. Richardson was recorded as being the only vote in favor of it after Arriola, frustrated at having spent three hours discussing the item, hung up on the video call before the vote took place.
“Good night, everybody. I’m very disappointed. Thanks for wasting my time. Goodnight,” Arriola said before leaving the meeting.
What will happen to Byron Carlyle?
The fate of the run-down theater remains to be seen. The city has said it would cost $3 million just to bring the building up to code, and Gelber said it could cost as much as $11 million to build a world-class facility.
Under the rejected proposal, the developers would have constructed a “gray shell” of a cultural center for the city and paid the city $2 million to help fund construction. It would still have cost the city an additional $5 million to $10 million to build out a working cultural space, Assistant City Manager Eric Carpenter said.
Samuelian, who was the first commissioner to say he would vote against the project, said the city should look for an alternative source of funding to create a public center, such as the anti-blight taxing district recently set up in North Beach or pending real estate transactions.
“The biggest thing to me about this is we’re talking now about selling public land,” he said. “That ultimately requires 6 out of the 7 votes. For me what that really means is it has to be compelling.”
Arriola and Richardson lamented that the theater may sit dormant for years to come because an alternative plan has yet to be presented.
“I think if we walk away from this deal we won’t have anything there for a really long time,” Arriola said. “Let’s not squander this.”