Will a Miami Beach historic block become home to a modern glass tower?
The Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board will soon decide whether a tall luxury condo tower may be built behind the Sagamore hotel in a Miami Beach historic district.
In addition to the proposed condominium building, the applicants have pledged to spend $4 million on improvements, including landscaping, to the easternmost end of Lincoln Road.
Critics say this gesture is an effort to sway the vote, because the city hasn’t initiated spending on this area on its own. The developers include the owners of the Sagamore at 1671 Collins Ave., and the Ritz-Carlton, formerly called the DiLido, at 1 Lincoln Rd.
The hotel owners and supporters argue the neighborhood would benefit economically, especially following the downturn from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Miami Beach’s mayor and commissioners have already agreed to the private-public partnership, pledging matching funds if the seven-member preservation boardapproves the application. The board meets Tuesday, beginning at 9 a.m., to discuss the proposal.
Opposing hotel owners, especially those from The National and the Delano that share the same block, say the15-story building will cast shadows on their pools, ruin the iconic skyline and change the whole character of the neighborhood.
Two years ago, the hoteliers applied to build a 200-foot residential building. The Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board rejected it.
At the time, Barry Klein, a member of the Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board, told the owners of the Sagamore and the Ritz-Carlton they could apply again with a different plan, with something that “fits in the neighborhood, [and] is not a glass box tower that tries to be invisible, which it can’t.”
Now they're proposing a glass building again, reducing its height 18 feet to a little more than 183 feet.
“It’s essentially the same project, less a few feet,” said Steven Avdakov, founder and principal architect of Heritage Architectural Associates, who’s leading the case against the proposed condo tower on behalf of his client, the National Hotel. It is located next to the Sagamore and has a dome on its roof.
The proposed building, if approved, would go up behind the Sagamore.
The hotels on the block are located within the Ocean Drive/Collins Avenue Historic District, which was created in 1986 to preserve and protect the 1930s and 1940's Art-Deco style of the area.
Said Avdakov: “It’s recognized nationally for that and internationally. You have visitors that come here to spend a lot of money on Miami Beach for this distinctive character."
Preservationists want to protect that distinctive character. In decades past, the main threat to historic buildings has been demolition.
Avdakov says the proposed building is “incompatible development right in the core of the district.”
Peter Kanavos, co-owner of the Ritz-Carlton and one of the tower applicants, told the Historic Preservation Board during a public meeting last month that some type of investment has to happen in the area to draw his high-end clients.
“When we follow up with our guests who come to visit here, what they’re telling us is, ‘We’re not gonna come back, because we don’t want to pay these kinds of rates for what you have outside of your front door,’” he said. “This should be sending alarm bells to everybody.”
Kanavos said a new luxury residential building will boost the local economy and bring in people who are vested in the area — a benefit not only for the developers.
“We make more money on hotels than we do on condominiums, so if you want to talk about a greed factor, I think you need to consider that,” Kanavos said.
Supporters of Kanavos pointed to the number of businesses that have closed because of the pandemic, and the increase of homeless individuals in the neighborhood.
Delphine Dray, the owner of the National Hotel, said homeless people wouldn’t get helped by a luxury tower; she said they need social services.
“This tower is going to bring [the owners] a lot of millions, and the $4 million are very cheap,” she said in arguing that the owners would gain much more than they’re pledging to beautify Lincoln Road.
She said she’s willing to put in money for this revitalization, but “not in exchange for this tower.”
Daniel Ciraldo, the executive director of the Miami Design Preservation League, a nonprofit formed in 1976 to fight for historic structures on Miami Beach, urged members to reject the proposed building, noting its height.
“It overwhelms. It’s not really an addition, more like a growth that’s maybe too big,” he said, adding that growth tends to spread, and once you allow one modern tower in a historic block, it will be hard to stop others from going up.
He acknowledged that crime in the area needs to be addressed, but also said one luxury condo building would not solve it. He didn’t ask the board to reject the application altogether, but to find a compromise.
“Have the parties get together and find a shared vision,” he said. “We really need to think about all angles and hopefully protect this place that we all love so much.”
Michael Silverman lives in the Decoplage, a condo building just across the Ritz-Carlton, by the ocean. In that September meeting, he questioned whether a 30-unit tower would serve as a primary residence.
“These apartments are gonna be at least $3 to $4 million a piece,” he said. “You’re gonna have very wealthy individuals who’ll definitely not be living there all year round.”
Silverman’s neighbor, Kim Garofalo, has lived at the Decoplage full-time for 5 years and has owned her unit for almost 20 years. She said she deliberately moved to Miami Beach from Boston with her husband, Phil, and son, Domenic.
“I don’t want to live in Manhattan. I want to live on Miami Beach,” she said. “The art deco history — there’s nowhere like it in the world. Let’s preserve it and that’s what that board is for.”
The Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board will vote on whether to go ahead with the proposal as is or have the developers come back with an alternate plan.
The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, October 10 at 9 a.m. at the Miami Beach Convention Center, 1901 Convention Center Drive, Miami Beach, 33139.
To attend or participate via Zoom, use the following link to join the webinar: https://miamibeachfl-gov.zoom.us/j/81748347488
This story has been edited to correct the height of the proposed residential building to 183 feet, not 186 feet.