Puerto Rico flag mural must go due to lack of permit, Miami officials tell restaurant owners

Celebrity owners of a new restaurant have been told by Miami city officials to undo the work of a famed artist -- who decorated the building with the flag of Puerto Rico -- because the owners didn’t apply for a permit.

La Placita, a restaurant owned by Latin American television star Julián Gil and celebrity chef José Mendín, was supposed to open Friday, celebrating Puerto Rican culture and its cuisine.

As an homage the owners’ Puerto Rican roots, they commissioned Puerto Rican-born artist Hector Collazo Hernández to paint the building as the Puerto Rican flag. The project attracted attention, with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez making a stop to observe the unique spectacle, the Miami Herald reported.

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But the grand opening was ruined after Miami city authorities deemed that the painting was illegal because the building sits in the MiMo Biscayne Boulevard Historic District. That means the property is subjected to stringent rules in an effort to preserve the area's distinct and historical architecture.

“I’m a huge fan of murals, and street art is awesome. But there’s a place for that and this is not a place for that,” MiMo homeowner Alisa Cepeda told the Herald. She’s also president of the volunteer MiMo Biscayne Association, which participates in meetings concerning the preservation of the neighborhood.

"I’m a huge fan of murals, and street art is awesome. But there’s a place for that and this is not a place for that."

— MiMo homeowner Alisa Cepeda

Yet the owners argue that their restaurant building should be exempted from the rules as it was built in 2009 and in a different style from other historical buildings in the area. During their assessment of the building they reportedly managed to confirm that the building isn’t considered historic.

The owners also obtained a special-event permit to paint the art without being told their mural could break any other local laws, they said, the newspaper reported.

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“Applicant is authorized to conduct artistic painting of mural at the above listed location,” reads the permit signed by the Miami police.

City officials insist the owners of the restaurant were supposed to propose the mural idea before a historic city planning board and allow for a review of the plan – something they hadn’t done.

"They are not in compliance. It’s now a code compliance issue."

— Vickie Toranazo, a historic preservation planner for the city of Miami

“They are not in compliance,” Vickie Toranazo, a historic preservation planner for the city of Miami, told the newspaper. “It’s now a code compliance issue.”

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The restaurant now has 30 days to address the mural, with the most likely outcome being painting it over and restoring the building to its original color, city spokeswoman Stephanie Severino said.

“We don’t want to break the law because we’re not above the law,” La Placita’s CEO Joey Cancel said. “What I hope is that there can be a middle ground, something that works for everyone.”