Miami’s Tower Theater could be given to Bay of Pigs vets for museum, housing

Miami City Commissioner Joe Carollo wants to turn over the operation of the historic and iconic Tower Theatre — South Florida’s highest-grossing art-house cinema and home of the Miami Film Festival — to the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association.

The non-profit — which has a museum and library in a house nearby dedicated to the April 17, 1961 invasion of Cuba by the 2506 Brigade — could also enter into a lease with the city to develop a museum and affordable housing in the theatre’s parking lot.

The city owns the Tower Theater, at 1508 SW 8th Street, and it’s been operated by Miami-Dade College since 2002. The lease agreement with the city, however, has a six month cancellation clause. So the city could kick the college out if this no-bid deal passes Thursday on a four-fifths vote.

“The Brigade 2506 has identified a need for the use of the Theater,” the commission item reads.

Nananina, say the veterans.

“We have nothing to do with that,” said Andrés Manzo, who runs the office at the Casa de la Brigada, 1821 SW 9th St. “The Brigade didn’t ask for that.

“We don’t want the Tower Theater. That’s not our business. We know nothing about movies. We are warriors,” Manzo said, laughing.

Brigade president Rafael Montalvo wrote a comment on the Miami Today story said they had communicated their utter lack of interest in any deal.

So why is Carollo doing this? Well, guess where the Tower Theatre is. That’s right. It is smack dab across the street from Ball & Chain, the iconic nightclub on 8th Street whose owner has sued the commissioner after Carollo targeted the business with code enforcement and shut them down in retaliation for supporting another commission candidate in 2017.

Read related: Ball & Chain to reopen after years of city harassment by Joe Carollo’s hand

The commissioner, who likes to swagger around like a cop, just wants to stare down the bar’s owner, Bill Fuller, from across Calle Ocho. And he’s willing to sacrifice one of South Florida’s cultural gems to do so. It is unclear if the Brigade has to continue to show films in the two auditoriums.

Not that they want to.

The Art Deco style Tower opened as a Wometco first-run-house in December, 1926, and again in October, 1931, after extensive remodeling, as a Wolfson-Meyer Theatrical Enterprises theater. It served as an introduction to American culture during the early 60s as Cubans fled the island’s new Communist regime and settled in Little Havana. The Tower began to provide Spanish subtitles and even Spanish-language films to appeal to the new and immediate audience.

Until it closed in 1984.

After another remodeling in 2002, thanks to funding secured by former Commissioner Frank Carollo, Crazy Joe’s baby brother, the Tower was turned over to Miami Dade College, which uses the landmark as the base for the annual and celebrated Miami Film Festival. Since then, more than 1.2 million people have walked through its doors, enjoying films from all over the world. In addition to the Miami Film Festival each spring, the Tower is also home to the GEMS Festival every fall and screens films year round, as well as provide a venue for private events.

In 2011, USA Today declared MDC’s Tower Theater “one of the 10 great places to see a movie in splendor” in the newspaper’s round-up of the best old-fashioned movie palaces in America.

Read related: Hypocrite Joe Carollo blasts Cuban regime but acts like a despot in Miami

It’s likely that someone from Miami Dade College will be at the meeting Thursday to urge Carollo to change his mind.

“MDC’s Tower Theater Miami is one of Miami’s oldest cultural landmarks,” reads a statement from the college, adding that it has made more than $1 million in “significant investments” including in the HVAC system, roof, marquee, flooring, seating, screens, 24/7 security systems, and projection equipment. The college gets zero financial support for the operation from the city, paying for maintenance and operations on its own.

MDC has also been a good steward of the historic building, which recently underwent a 40-year recertification. And it has been a beacon for the rebirth of that area of Little Havana.

“The Tower Theater’s economic impact over the last two decades while Miami Dade College managed it is estimated to be nearly $51 million,” the MDC statement reads.

“Currently, the college operates the Tower Theater to the great benefit to the residents and businesses of the City of Miami and Little Havana.”

Carollo needs three more commissioners to vote for a four-fifths vote because this is also a no-bid giveaway — and it’s needless, even though the city manager says going to bid would not be “practicable or advantageous to the city.” How many times has he said that when it’s not true?

Let’s hope Chairwoman Christine King and Commissioners Ken Russell or Manolo Reyes do the right thing.

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