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The Vital Importance Of Saving The Jackie Gleason Theater

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A leader of South Florida's music scene and a pure bred Miamian, Lauren Reskin is fighting to save the Jackie Gleason Theater as the great live music venue that it is.

By Lauren 'Lolo' Reskin

The South Florida concert scene is now the strongest it's been in the last two decades, and The Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater, with its 2,700-seat capacity unique in our region, is one of Miami's most important music venues. It can host intimate shows by major artists, bigger indie/alternative acts, comedy, kids' concerts, and special presentations like Radiolab Live. It is on par with some of America's best music halls. To lose Gleason as a dedicated live music venue would be a tragedy for all culturally-inclined South Floridians.

I first heard about the potential peril facing the Gleason from my good friend Dirk DeSouza, who created a Facebook page explaining the two plans for the Miami Beach Convention Center site and backing South Beach-ACE who proposed to save and improve the theater. On the other side was Portman CMC, who planned to bulldoze the Gleason in favor of a much smaller venue to house a permanent Cirque du Soleil.

I grew up in South Florida and through high school was endlessly frustrated by the lack of quality live concerts. In the late '90s I started getting involved - DJing, promoting club nights, booking up-and-coming acts, and working in music retail. Through all of these actions, I realized I could help make a difference in my hometown. So instead of booking it to London or NY for college, I stayed and planted roots. I opened my own shop Sweat Records in 2005 and we've been off and running ever since.

I attended the community meeting on March 27th and sat through the full presentations by both teams. In the weeks since, a growing group of vocal residents spoke up with the goal of galvanizing opposition to Portman's demolition plans. Our efforts were rewarded with the recent announcement that they too now intend to keep the theater. And while this was welcome news for our coalition of grassroots supporters, we are still passionate about keeping the Gleason as a dedicated live music venue.

Portman says they will present live programming and concerts alongside Cirque du Soleil. This is not believable. For starters, Cirque will understandably pick the best dates and days of the week, leaving touring artists with no choice but to bypass South Florida altogether. Second, a Cirque show is a massive production and is usually held in theater designed specifically for that show; it seems unlikely that they would completely upend everything weekly to accommodate a touring act with a huge production of its own. Third, Cirque shows don't change. As in Orlando and Las Vegas, the same show could stay for years, giving patrons little reason to return.

At the root of this, I still can't fathom how Portman thought a Cirque du Soleil would be a better fit for Miami Beach than a culturally-diverse venue that brings in acts that appeal to nearly every sector of the population. Cirque has failed in LA, NY, and several other major markets, and there's no promise that it will succeed here.

South Beach ACE has been listening from the start of this process, which explains why they set out to keep and improve the Gleason all along. Their plan is more community-oriented, pedestrian friendly, and environmentally sound. ACE spoke with Live Nation, the theater's current operator, far in advance and they see the value and potential in the building (which, even now, still has a LOT of untapped potential).

To me it never made sense to demolish a perfectly good venue. Now, it still doesn't make sense to trade varied programming with a solid operator for a static, limited-appeal show with a big question mark. Go ACE.
· Miami Beach Convention Center coverage [Curbed Miami]
· Save the Fillmore Miami Beach At The Jackie Gleason Theater [Facebook]

Miami Beach Convention Center

1901 Convention Center Dr., Miami Beach, FL 33139