When we decided to produce Miami Motel Stories, we knew we wanted the location to be part of the tale we were telling through theatre. We wanted to resurrect neighborhoods, and bring back those who built up our Magic City, one by one. We knew we’d need to connect with developers, but we also knew they needed to be the right developers.

Then we met the boys at the Barlington Group, Bill Fuller and Martin Pinilla. Turns out Bill and Martin have similar goals to ours. They look at buildings and their desire is to peel back the historical layers, reach the core. In essence, their vision as developers is very similar to ours as theatre makers — to cultivate consciously. So, when they told us they wanted to collaborate, that they had the perfect building for us, we listened. That building turned out to be The Tower Hotel in Little Havana, which they were starting to revamp into the area’s first boutique hotel.

The Tower Hotel is the perfect place for us to launch from. This Tower’s got soul. You feel it the moment you walk in. As for The Barlington Group, we’re hoping this is only the beginning of a flourishing partnership.

We’re thinking you’ll dig them as much as we do. Our project reporter, William Hector, met up with Bill and Martin to talk about their mission and our location. Check it out!

The Cuban Plymouth Rock: William Hector Interviews Bill Fuller and Martin Pinilla On Their Sustainable Development Mission

What first drew you to The Tower Hotel, as developers?

Pinilla: The Tower Hotel has so much history. We bought it from the family that owned it for sixty years, the Schechtman family. [They] used to be the guys that operated Ball and Chain, which had well-recognized musicians that traveled through there. This gentleman, Henry Schechtman, in a time of segregation, would bring [black musicians] in the backdoor and let them stay at The Tower Hotel. In our kind of master plan to develop the neighborhood, we realized how important this hotel — being the only hotel in the neighborhood — was going to be. And so, when the opportunity came up, we bought it, five years ago.

Fuller: The idea of introducing, or reintroducing, a hotel to the neighborhood, especially with all the tourists that come here, will be a game changer. You’ll start to see probably the proliferation of more bars and restaurants, places people will be able to enjoy later into the night. [Then] Juggerknot is bringing in all these additional layers and content that is going to be able to provide a really unique experience.


Photo by: Pedro Portal

Tell us more about that unique experience. What will it mean for audiences, residents, and tourists to the neighborhood?

Fuller: [Calle Ocho] receives four million visitors a year, trying to scrape the surface of heritage. What is the cultural experience here? Because we’re the largest property owner in these three blocks, it’s incumbent on us to make sure that we are truly profiling our tenants, and making sure that we are absolutely bringing the best experience, the best foot forward that we can bring. And that speaks to one of the passions driving us in this neighborhood. Because both of us have Cuban heritage. And for us, aside from being a business mission, it’s a personal mission to make sure that we are representing the best in our culture, whether it’s the visual arts or dance or theatre, and so it’s a careful balance, but it’s also about the people.

Pinilla: Tanya and Juggerknot are great operators and producers. [Their] concept, which is experimental theater, hasn’t really been seen in Miami. We’re super excited to be a part of that, and think that it has legs for a more permanent basis. Theater in all the great cities is a major foothold.

And what has this working relationship with Juggerknot been like so far?  

Fuller: We’re lovers of the arts. We’ll always try to contribute creatively to the project, but at the end of the day, being frustrated artists, we know that for you to truly push the boundary, you have to be able to have as much freedom as possible to truly exercise what it is you’re trying to do. So, we try, I believe, to give as much freedom as possible to [Juggerknot].

Pinilla: It’s gonna be first rate, it’s gonna be great. I think it’s gonna be that big of a hit.

Owners of the Iconic Tower Hotel in Miami. Artists, Tanya Bravo.

Photo by: Pedro Portal

Miami Motel Stories wears history on its sleeve. Looking at your office, one of the first things you see is a classic pinball machine and jukebox. Can you tell us about your relationship with the past and with those items?

Fuller: A lot of those pieces were from our tenants. Or projects that we’ve been part of. Like the pinball machine and the jukebox, that jukebox came from an old furniture store on the street. We fell in love with that jukebox and we begged for it at the closing, because it was a historical timepiece of Calle Ocho in the 1980s.

Pinilla: And [the owner] gave it to us as a gift. He actually gave it to us with a book and a handwritten note. We call it the changing of the guard, because these are owners who have owned these properties for thirty, forty years. And so just even that process of that family letting go, of a place that they had walked into for thirty-five years of their life, every single day. That was their life. That was a very special moment that day he passed on that jukebox …

Fuller: You think about the mid 1980s and Little Havana and you see in the record collection [in the jukebox], the classic salsa bands that would have been appreciated by the elders, the Cubans that would have emigrated first generation. And then you see the first album of Miami Sound Machine, you see Madonna and you see U2’s early album in there. And your like, “oh my god,” and you see probably the last era of vinyls in a jukebox, like one of the last five years of vinyls in there. That truly is a museum piece.

That’s a narrative in and of itself.

Fulller: There are great stories [here], like there’s the story of Navarro Pharmacy opening up on 15th avenue, in 1961, going on to become the largest Hispanic owned pharmacy. There’s El Dorado furniture, that becomes the largest Hispanic owned furniture company in the country, starting on this street. Arva Parks, a historian, always says it truly is the Cuban Plymouth Rock, it’s not just a Little Havana Story, it’s an American story.