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Bills Threatening Miami Beach Buildings Are Back

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Last May, preservationists across Florida breathed a sigh of relief when a bill seeking to gut protections for historic coastal buildings died in the Florida House after passing the Senate. But similar proposals are back for this year’s legislative session in Tallahassee, sending local leaders scrambling once again.

On Monday, the Senate version of the bill passed its first committee hearing — a 6-2 vote of the Community Affairs committee — despite a parade of speakers saying they feared the language would let developers strip away the unique character of tourist destinations like Miami Beach, St. Augustine and Key West. At the legislation’s core is a notion that old buildings near Florida’s coast ought to be demolished if a local building official deems them unsafe or if they don’t meet federal standards that call for flood-resistant materials and elevated structures in vulnerable areas. Preservationists say few historic buildings conform to those rules.

Both the Senate bill and its companion bill in the House would exempt single-family homes, as well as structures that are individually listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In Miami Beach, that includes the Fontainebleau, Cadillac and Ocean Spray hotels. But historic hotels along Collins Avenue in the Mid-Beach and North Beach neighborhoods would not receive similar protections under either proposal. Among them are Art Deco buildings like the Faena, Sherry Frontenac, Casablanca and Carillon.

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The Senate bill sponsor, Bryan Avila, a Republican from west Miami-Dade, acknowledged during Monday’s hearing that the idea is controversial. His proposal would kneecap Miami Beach’s Historic Preservation Board, which is empowered to block demolition of historic buildings and, if a building is knocked down, dictate what can go in its place.

Avila reiterated arguments he made for similar legislation he filed last year. He painted Miami Beach as a community that has gone too far in its historic protections, upsetting what he described as a “very delicate dance” between preserving history and maintaining property rights. About 2,600 buildings in Miami Beach are part of locally designated historic districts.

HOUSE BILL WOULD SOFTEN THE BLOW

Rep. Spencer Roach, R-North Fort Myers, has filed a companion to Avila’s bill in the Florida House with language that would soften the legislation’s impacts. Last year, Roach abandoned a similar bill amid fierce opposition from local governments but vowed to bring it back in 2024. While Avila’s bill would affect buildings within a half-mile of the coast, Roach’s proposal is limited to properties at least partially east of the state’s coastal construction control line, a boundary that hugs the coast and is meant to restrict construction near beaches. Roach’s bill, which has not yet faced a hearing, would also exempt buildings in nationally designated historic districts established before 2000 — meaning the Miami Beach Architectural District, an area that stretches from Ocean Drive at Sixth Street to Collins Avenue at 22nd Street, would be protected.

‘BAD, BUT LESS BAD’

Facing questioning Monday from Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Hollywood, Avila pledged to revise his bill to make it more like the House version.

“I am committed to going in that direction and working with the House sponsor to adopt that language,” he said. Avila did not respond to an inquiry from the Miami Herald on whether he would adopt the entire House bill or parts of it. The House bill is “bad, but less bad than [the Senate] one,” said Daniel Ciraldo, executive director of the Miami Design Preservation League, which advocates for historic preservation in Miami Beach. “They’re trying to undo decades of good urban planning and community consensus building,” Ciraldo said. “We’re basically trying to explain why Miami Beach should still exist.”

Miami Beach City Commissioner Alex Fernandez said at Monday’s hearing that the city has worked cooperatively with owners of historic buildings to revitalize Art Deco gems, pointing to a $500 million renovation of The Raleigh and an $85 million makeover for The Shelborne.

The proposed legislation, Fernandez said, would only encourage owners to let their properties fall into disarray in order to incur unsafe structure violations and make it easier to knock buildings down. In Key West, Mayor Teri Johnston said she hopes the city will ultimately be removed from the legislation. Last year, language added to Avila’s proposal exempted “areas of critical state concern,” which includes Key West and much of the Florida Keys.

‘WHAT HAPPENED TO PROPERTY RIGHTS?’

Lawmakers supporting the bills say property owners should have more freedom to develop than Miami Beach and other cities with strict historic protections allow.

“What happened to property rights?” Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Lady Lake, said at Monday’s hearing. “Everybody else has a claim to somebody’s property but the person that owns it, apparently. I don’t share that viewpoint.”

The bills’ backers also say the changes are crucial to ensuring building safety and resiliency against flooding near Florida’s coast. Last year, Avila argued it was necessary to replace older buildings with new structures that meet FEMA rules for flood- and storm-surge resistance to obtain insurance under the National Flood Insurance Program.

Opponents say they’re skeptical and that they believe powerful — and secretive — interests may be behind the effort. Last year, a group called A Resilient Future Florida hired a lobbying firm to push for the bills, according to public records. One of the firm’s lobbyists, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ former chief of staff Adrian Lukis, sent a draft of the legislation to staffers for Avila and Roach, according to records obtained by reporter Jason Garcia.

But it’s unclear who is funding the group, which donated $40,000 late last year to several political committees supporting Republican lawmakers. It was incorporated last March by Tallahassee elections attorney Natalie Kato and lists two Jacksonville residents, Joey McKinnon and Casey Hendershot, as its officers. Reached by phone, McKinnon and Hendershot declined to talk about their roles in the group or what it does, referring questions to Kato. Kato did not respond to a request for comment. This year, records show the group has again retained Lukis to lobby on the legislation. Lukis did not respond to a request for comment.

 

Source:  Miami Herald

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Dolphins Owner Stephen Ross To Buy Deauville Hotel, Plans Luxury Complex In Miami Beach

Related Companies’ Stephen Ross is buying the historic Deauville Beach Resort in Miami Beach, enlisting star architect Frank Gehry to redesign the property.

The hotel, originally built in 1957, was the set of the famed Beatles performance for “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964. It’s said to have hosted President John F. Kennedy and Frank Sinatra.

The MiMo-style hotel has remained vacant following an electrical fire in 2017. The property fell into such disrepair that a Miami Beach official issued a demolition order in January, deeming the building structurally unsafe. A last-ditch effort to save the property, launched by the Miami Design Preservation League, failed last week when a Miami-Dade County board upheld the order.

The oceanfront property sits on 3.8 acres at 6701 Collins Avenue in North Beach, a historically working-class neighborhood that’s been gentrifying, thanks to Miami Beach’s soaring residential market during the past two years.

Ross has not revealed specific plans for the site, only divulging his intention to develop a “six-star hotel and luxury residences” designed by Gehry. The Pritzker-winning architect has designed iconic structures such as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.

The Deauville project is “personal” for Ross, who partly grew up in Miami Beach and graduated from Miami Beach Senior High School.

“I know what this site means to the people of Miami Beach, and I know the potential to create a truly special development that honors the history of the Deauville while creating an iconic place for generations to come,” Ross said in a statement.

The Meruelo family bought the 540-room hotel for a mere $4 million in 2004, according to property records. After the 2017 fire, the property had been embroiled in a legal fight. In 2019, the Miami Beach government sued the Meruelos to maintain the 595,788-square-foot resort, as required for historically protected buildings. Some preservationists have accused the owners of letting the hotel decay on purpose, in hopes of tearing it down and building something new.

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said he would back a development project with Ross at the helm only because of Ross’ long-term vision.

“There are too many examples of folks buying and flipping parcels for quick payoffs, leaving the city with undeveloped and vacant properties for too many years,” the mayor wrote in an email to residents. “Steve is committed to making sure his design pays suitable homage to the original Deauville and wants to assure the entire neighborhood benefits.”

The developer is “not looking to increase density but needs more flexibility in the design possibilities,” Mayor Gelber added. It’s unclear whether Ross will retain parts of the original structure or move forward with a complete demolition.

Miami Beach residents will likely have a say. Mayor Gelber said he would ask the City Commission to put the development plans to a vote this November.

A number of questions remain unanswered, including whether Ross’ purchase has even closed. A representative for Related did not respond to a request for comment.

While the developer announced that he had bought the property — without providing a sale price — Mayor Gelber wrote that Ross had taken “the first steps to purchase the property” only last Friday by signing “documents that will allow him to acquire and control the parcel.”

It’s also unclear whether the project will be owned by Ross personally or his development firm, Related Companies, a powerhouse in New York’s real estate scene having built Hudson Yards and the Deutsche Bank Center, formerly known as the Time Warner Center.

Ross, who’s worth an estimated $8.2 billion, has a history of working outside of the firm he founded. After buying the Miami Dolphins in 2009, he renovated the Hard Rock Stadium, spending hundreds of millions out of pocket.

For Ross, the Deauville development represents another milestone in his growing South Florida real estate empire. Related Companies is in the early stages of developing an office tower in Brickell, one that could become Miami’s tallest. In West Palm Beach, Related has developed much of the city’s downtown, including a neighborhood-like shopping mall and an office building that nabbed Goldman Sachs as a tenant.

 

Source:  Commercial Observer

 

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