The number of 'for rent' signs is multiplying. A list of restaurants that have closed in Coconut Grove is growing. 21, in the past year. Fed Chief Ben Bernanke says "the recession is likely over". Tell that to Coconut Grove merchants. One local shop owner says that bar business on a typically busy weekday night is down 90 percent. Last week, the multiplex at Cocowalk shuttered its doors. The movie theater attracted about 600,000 people a year who often spent money at local stores and restaurants.
Although Muvico may be renovating and leasing the old AMC space, the loss of the movie theater complex represents a five alarm economic 'fire'. It is not just the commercial district. The promise of the West Grove during the building boom is receding with a bitter aftertaste. Important community efforts to engage local kids like the Barnyard are starved for funding. When those kids are not engaged and hopeful, some will drift to trouble. Miami city commissioners are distracted by the budget crisis, the plight of the Grove now demands attention. (click 'read more')
Some Grove business leaders hope for restoring the 5AM closing time for bars, arguing that customers are going to other areas of the city that stay open later. They blame the change in closing times for a significant decline in business. There is also the problem of inadequate parking: chickens coming home to roost because of lousy decisions by city commissioners to approve every high density development application during the boom. The cost of parking is highway robbery in the Grove. It is a luxury tax in an area and at at time that can ill afford one.
In historical context, however, there is another issue: the Grove recklessly squandered its unique character. It is not easy to correct errors in permitting developments out of scale with neighborhood character. Coconut Grove needs its character back, but it was sacrificed on the altar of lobbyists, greedy public officials and grand schemes. It is the story of Florida writ small.
What is not clear is whether the Grove, like much of overdeveloped Florida, will need bankruptcies and restructuring to rejuvenate. That is a long way off: too far for most merchants to contemplate with any degree of calm. The City could begin by doing the easy stuff: be welcoming to Grove visitors instead of taking them for granted. Come up with a solution to the cost of parking in the Grove. Roll forward the hours of operation for restaurants and bars to 5 AM. And find a way to rebuild the Grove's identity, lost by careless risk takers, builders, lobbyists and elected officials who made the wrong choice at the fork in the road: the Age of Stupid or a sustainable economy.