Give Back the Gusmans Their Legacy!

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Gusmans want Olympia Theater back after Miami neglect
Grant Miller

The City of Miami has a choice to make today about who will run The Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, but it is distracted.

Miami is in the international spotlight for the wrong reasons including having one commissioner in criminal peril, another that could lose his house for abusing his power, a city attorney under scrutiny for her connection to companies that flipped elder homes, a mayor whose business dealings are raising questions, and more.

Permits still take forever in the City of Miami and more investment is on the horizon, but do we have the right leadership to deal with complex issues like who holds the keys to the future of the Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts.

The theater’s fate is in question because the City of Miami has allowed it to go into neglect to the point that the grandkids of prior owner Maurice Gusman are now demanding Miami return it to them. The return of the theater would not just be a victory for the Gusmans, but for all of Miami, signaling a commitment to preserving its cultural institutions. As the scandals unfold, the city’s leadership has the power to demonstrate that they can rise above the fray and do what is best for this treasure and residents.

The Gusman Theater stands today as a glimmering cultural light that has adapted since its opening in 1926 to showcase silent movies, transforming over decades into a performance space for Elvis Presley, Jimmy Buffet and Wynton Marsalis, and becoming the onetime home of the Miami Film Festival when it launched.

It was Maurice Gusman who brought it to prominence by hiring famed architect Morris Lapidus to restore it and donated it to the City of Miami in 1975. An agreement was struck that the board of Off Street Parking would run it — a detail enshrined in a restrictive covenant to ensure compliance.

This arrangement stood unchallenged until 2011 when the Off Street Parking Board relinquished control to city politicians, directly contravening the covenant. This action drew criticism from Gusman’s grandson, Robert Gusman, who saw this as a betrayal of his grandfather’s intentions.

Despite assurances from then Mayor Tomas Regalado that the late Herman Echevarria, a respected businessman, would oversee the theater’s revival, Echevarria’s death left those promises unfulfilled, and the theater fell into neglect.

The theater’s fate took another twist in 2019 when Bruce Gusman, one of Maurice’s grandsons, discovered a “repair or demolish” notice tacked to the building his grandfather had so lovingly saved. Media reports soon followed that the city intended to transfer ownership to Miami-Dade College. This prompted the Gusman family to engage legal counsel, demanding the theater’s return due to the covenant’s breach — a request the City has denied.

The City of Miami should take a breath and relinquish the control it is exerting over The Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts. The fact it has not happened already is a signal of how checked out leadership has been. Giving it back before it’s too late will offer a glimmer of hope that City officials can again regain perspective and regain some of its credibility. Give the Gusman Center back today!

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