City of Miami Axes College’s Management of Tower Theater

Update published on September 27, 2022 at 6:30 p.m.: After the New Times published this story, South Florida filmmaker Chris Molina created an online petition titled “SAVE TOWER THEATER!”

The petition is addressed to the City of Miami Commissioners, Mayor Francis Suarez, and a bevy of city officials. It requires the city to retain Tower Theater in the hands of Miami Dade College. The petition garnered more than 650 signatures within hours of publication.

“When this is through, Miami will lose another cultural landmark, something we cannot afford. Miami residents will lose access to Spanish language films and other international cinema. Miami will be a meeting point for so many of our talented filmmakers, this city for what it is,” writes Molina

The original story follows below.

After 20 years of supporting art house cinema and performances at the Tower Theater on Calle Ocho, Miami Dade College will no longer operate the historic venue.

The City of Miami notified Miami Dade College (MDC) last week that the college’s management agreement for Tower Theater will be terminated effective January 2, 2023.

“The City wishes to provide the college with prior written notice of termination to ensure a smooth transition for the college,” the letter, dated 19 , reads. “We thank you for your services in managing the property over the past few years.”

The notice of termination (attached at the end of this article) is not grounds for terminating the city’s agreement with the college.

Reached by new times On Monday, an MDC spokesman said the college has leased the property for five years, beginning in 2016, and has the option to extend it for five more years after providing the city with certain documentation. The college had been in talks with the city for the past 20 months to process the lease extension, but communications broke down, and despite the college’s intention to remain on board as the theater’s manager, the lease was terminated, according to the college .

“It is unfortunate that the city terminated our lease. We have been good stewards of this important community asset for 20 years,” said the MDC spokesman. “At the end of the day, it’s a city building, and the city can choose what to do with its buildings.”

The termination came just three days before a meeting of the City of Miami Commission with two resolutions on the agenda aimed at turning over control of the Tower Theater and adjacent parking lot to the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association’s 2506 Brigade so that they be able to “manage better” the property, as one of the resolutions put it.

The resolutions were sponsored by Commissioner Joe Carollo, who allegedly pushed the Veterans Association to take over the property. Measures included a plan to build affordable housing on the property, as well as a museum commemorating the attempted Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961.

Rafael Montalvo, President of Brigade 2506, narrates new times that his group was interested in the parking lot behind the theater as a location for the planned museum, but didn’t want anything to do with the theater itself.

“We said no, but [Carollo] insisted. We don’t want the tower. We are all 80 years old. We don’t want to argue with anyone,” says Montalvo.

The resolutions were removed from the agenda by Miami City Manager Arthur Noriega during the Sept. 22 commission meeting. The city nonetheless insisted on terminating its administrative agreement with Miami Dade College

MDC has operated the 1920’s Tower Theater since 2002, when the college reopened the venue and transformed it into a cultural landmark for the Little Havana community. The theater hosts the fall season’s GEMS Film Festival, hosted by the Miami Film Festival, scheduled to take place November 3-6.

MDC says it will continue to offer its scheduled programming and shows until it is no longer the building’s manager next January.

When asked if the college would try to get a new lease on the property, the spokesperson expressed uncertainty about what the process would be, but that the college was in touch with city officials.

“Miami Dade College has a keen interest in continuing to operate the Tower Theater in its current form,” the spokesman said.

The City of Miami released a statement on the matter new timesconfirming that the college’s management contract will expire in January 2023. The city said it will “assume control of the administration and operations of Tower Theater in the foreseeable future.”