Coconut Grove, $4 Million in Debt, Shuts Down and Examines Options

News   Coconut Grove, $4 Million in Debt, Shuts Down and Examines Options Coconut Grove Playhouse, the nationally recognized resident Equity theatre in Miami, will go dormant this summer while the board seeks a direction for the institution, which is $4 million in debt.

The Sun-Sentinel reported that two motions were passed at an April 26 board meeting. One has the board's legal committee to exploring "restructuring opportunities"; the other welcomes "a community-based blue ribbon committee to examine the playhouse operations, financial and fundraising needs and report its recommendations."

Producing artistic director Arnold Mittelman, on whose watch the theatre accumulated the debt, has been asked to resign, but has not as of May 2. Mittelman reportedly wants to stick around through the duration of his contract, to 2008, to help with the resuscitation of the operation.

The Miami Herald reported that Mittelman "used a state grant restricted for building improvements as collateral for a $125,000 loan on behalf of the Playhouse, violating both the theatre's bylaws and possibly jeopardizing other state grants." The paper reported he used the money to cover staff paychecks, including his own. The paper had earlier reported that Mittelman's annual salary, per a recent tax filing, was $190,000.

Mittelman has been artistic director at the 50-year-old Coconut Grove since 1985.

The not-for-profit's 2006-07 season has been announced, but its future is unclear. Coconut Grove gave Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot its American premiere in 1956.

Mittelman was hired to take over Coconut Grove from José Ferrer in 1985.

According the Herald, which cited Mittleman's 1987-90 contract, there is no board oversight of his artistic or staffing decisions.