Collins Park Garage Caught in the Middle

Collins Park

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Collins Park Garage Caught in the Middle:

Preservation board wants guarantees on future uses

The Historic Preservation Board started a game of tug of war with the City Commission this week over the design of the proposed Collins Park garage when members got into the policy of creating housing and gallery spaces for artists.
 
The City plans to build a new six-story garage with ground level commercial space at 340 23rd Street. The initial plan for the garage was for a larger structure designed by the late architect Zaha Hadid. That project spanned two City-owned lots on the east and west sides of Liberty Avenue behind the Miami City Ballet and Public Library. The design was ultimately rejected when its cost was estimated to be almost twice the proposed budget of $27m.

The scaled back plan calls for the garage to be built on the lot behind the Ballet and contain 513 parking spaces with 15,000 sq. ft. of retail. The design by architect Allan Shulman includes an open garage with a perforated metal screen (above). 
 
City Design and Preservation Manager Debbie Tackett described the metal screen as “inspired by kind of a crossword puzzle that will highlight different cultural terms that are important to this particular area of the City and the City’s heritage in general.” The City Commission will have the final say on specific words.
 
Architect Allan Shulman said the City asked for a design that would include at least 500 cars and the 15,000 sq. ft. of retail space. “Of course, a 500 car plus retail garage is a rather large building so you can see that part of what we’re doing is to work with the scale of the building and presentation of the building to contextualize it into the neighborhood,” Shulman told the HPB.
 
“We call this project Arts & Letters and that has something to do with the big idea of the project and that is to wrap the garage,” he said. “Any garage of this type really needs a skin and the skin of this garage is meant to be a kind of a civic skin and to incorporate something of the memory of the City and the memory of this district, the cultural district into the skin.”
 
“The idea of the words,” he said is to include messages or historical figures, “things that tie into culture and to make that part of the actual architecture itself, not as a sort of a decorative add-on element, but literally woven into the skin of the building.” The words or phrases could be educational or fun. 
 
“I think it could be a great Instagram moment for visitors to Miami Beach,” he said.  “It could be a very prominent and civic iconic gesture with the Collins Park neighborhood.”
 
The retail space will be raised to the City’s new resiliency standards, Base Flood Elevation plus 1 or, in this case, 9 feet. To make the retail appealing to passersby who are used to seeing retail at ground level, Shulman has proposed a “wrapping arcade that goes under the canopy of the garage.” The raised arcade terrace would be a dining terrace, he said.  
 
Tackett added, “Floor to ceiling height is high enough so that in the future, you could raise the floor internally and still have workable, practical ground floor for retail.”
 
The height of the building is proposed to be 69 ½ feet, under the 75-foot maximum height for the area. In order to blend in better with its neighbors, Shulman has tapered the metal skin from 23rd Street down toward the Ballet on the other side. 
 
Ray Breslin, President of the Collins Park Neighborhood Association told the Board, “We really want to get a garage built. We love this plan.”
 
When it was time for Board comment, Jack Finglass questioned the idea of the retail space. “I assume that the City’s purpose is to encourage economic development on the first floor of buildings and yet when I drive around every day I see the new Deauville Garage, across the street from the Deauville, the entire first floor is empty. Drexel and 16th, the same thing. The former Canyon Ranch, the first floor for two blocks is completely empty. Lincoln Road has many vacancies. We keep building and building all this first floor commercial space and yet, in my opinion, it makes the City look – not depressed – but it makes it look not very active when all these spaces are empty. Is that still the City’s purpose to build more and more commercial space?”
 
Tackett responded that it’s a Code requirement to have active space on the ground floor of parking garages whether it’s commercial or residential active use. “We don’t want just solid parking garages coming down,” she said. “Some of the projects you mention, I share the same frustration. Some of them are actually moving forward to be leased, but it’s a challenge. It’s a challenge for the City which is why we work so carefully to try to create retail spaces that are actually usable and not just afterthoughts. Hopefully in this area, due to the cultural activities, there will be a need for commercial space. I know the neighborhood is looking forward to some limited neighborhood-type commercial spaces. With private properties it’s more of a challenge with rental agreements or what type of tenants they’re looking for.” 
 
Then the discussion took a turn that set up a potential battle with the City Commission over the use of the space. 
 
Board member Nancy Liebman took issue with the building’s height. “It’s out of scale with the height in the historic district,” she said. “We don’t just increase height in the historic districts, but for some reason we have become a little aggressive in increasing heights of garages in historic districts which makes no sense. The garage should be part of the district. It is a part of the district. It should look like it’s part of the district and I don’t see why it has to have 70 feet.” 
 
Liebman noted the discussion by the Commission to use the eastern lot for an arts building to accommodate housing and gallery space for local artists. She questioned if that building was going to happen and how the new garage would relate to the arts building if it were to be built.
 
When Breslin said the current City Commission promised the arts building, Liebman responded, “There’s a lot of talk at a Commission meeting.”
 
Tackett noted that when the Commission voted to authorize the additional height for the garage in December, they mentioned the potential for future adaptation of the garage as parking needs decline with rideshare and increased use of other modes of mobility. “This [garage] has been designed in a manner that it could be converted to housing or artist housing or artist studios… That additional height has been built into this design which would allow for modification in the future in the event this is not used for parking.”
 
Liebman continued, “The James Avenue garage, asking for 75 feet; the historic district, Museum District, is going to be inundated with oversized and out of scale garages… that’s not a slight to the architect. You did a beautiful job with what you were getting from the City” but she said she would not support the garage “until there’s a resolution to show that full money is in place” for the arts building across the street.
 
“Between this and the one that’s coming down the street [on James Avenue], the City is becoming known for its expansion of garages” she said. “They would never just give away height like this if it was a historic hotel. Never.”
 
Tackett said, “The issue is timing.” The parking that was slated for the eastern lot has now been shifted to this garage on the western lot. “The City Commission decided to move forward with the eastern lot separately as the housing component. [There are] probably many more months before that does get to you.”
 
“The garage came first and much later is this housing idea which is why it’s not part of a comprehensive application to you,” Tackett said. “It will ultimately come before you. We don’t have a context because that hasn’t been formally submitted to you.”
 
Liebman said, “That’s the problem… we’re going to approve that [project]. We’re just going on a hope and a prayer that that’s going to be achieved. But to go on a hope and a prayer that we’re going to put this [garage] building in the middle of a historic district, I don’t know. Has there ever been an increase in height like this in a historic district?”
 
“The Zaha garage was a similar height,” Tackett responded. 
 
“We’ve been fighting against height in historic districts for how many years?” Liebman asked. “I am growing old fighting this battle. I don’t blame the architect. I think he was just doing his job. I think the City has absolutely no respect for historic districts by requesting this kind of thing. I don’t want to hold up the garage but I’d like to see the City come back [when] you have the money in place, you’ve bid out, you’ve selected an architect, everything you have to do so that we understand that that’s going to happen so we don’t have that beautiful garage next to an empty lot forever, a building that’s too tall and out of scale.
 
Chair Stevan Pardo said, “I agree with Nancy… I think that the procedural mechanism of how this is being brought to us is wrong and it needs to be corrected. We’ll get this done. We’re going to get this project done, but we’re not going to do it the way that it’s being brought to us right now. I have legal issues with it. I think there’s moral issues with it, and I do believe that if the [Commission] resolution [to raise the height] is going to talk about arts studios and art housing and none of it to be found in that parking garage, then I want to make sure that there is a mechanism for how that is going to be accomplished with the space that is available before we proceed and do what the Commission has asked us to do which is to approve something that is in excess of the height that would be allowed in this historic district. We will accomplish this but not in the manner in which it is being brought to us today.”
 
Pardo added, “I want to see this project approved but the quandary we have is that we’re not holistically looking at exactly how the housing or the studios of artists is going to fit in because it was contemplated initially in the resolution. That’s not now how the project is going to be done… it’s a two-stage project and we don’t know what the other stage looks like.”
 
He suggested an approval condition that there be artist housing and studios in the garage if the second project isn’t built. He said the Board will “relieve you of that condition but it remains until a plan is presented and approved and ability to be funded” for the second building.
 
Senior Assistant City Attorney Nick Kallergis said, “The programming of these projects is within the Commission’s purview and not yours in a typical Historic Preservation Board role.”
 
“Your decisions here have to be based on the Certificate of Appropriateness criteria,” he said. “Your decisions on applications cannot be based on policy reasons. They need to be based on evidence in the record and looking at the Certificate of Appropriateness criteria.”
 
Liebman said, “I don’t want to vote for this until I get a sense of a timetable it’s going to happen.”
 
Pardo noted, “Just an observation, I think that every single time that we have created a sense of concern by our comments [about a project]… we go polish it off and we come back and it is always a better project, always.”
 
“This is a great project,” he said. “I don’t want to take anything away… I really love the project. I’m a little nervous about the height but I can get over it by what you’ve done with this project in making it as compatible – with the way you’ve designed it conducive to what the height of the Ballet building is – but we have an opportunity here to do something really, really important for this community and it’s not all built into this design. There’s obviously another building that’s going to come that’s built into it but we don’t know anything about it because it’s not yet designed. That’s the challenge for us.”
 
“It’s something that’s eating at us and we don’t like to make decisions that we ever have second thoughts about,” Pardo continued. “We like to make the right decision.  Let's wait and let’s get this right. I know sometimes the Commissioners do turn on the TV and listen to us. I’m sure they will hear us. If not, I’m sure that they will hear it from staff.”
 
“We’re going to approve this project but we’re not going to approve it today, at least in my intention, in my vote, until we have a holistic approach to this whole art studio, art housing, and this community of what we’re doing here with the building that’s going to be 70 feet, 69 feet in height,” Pardo said.
 
Tackett said, “The resolution for increase in height includes both projects.” She noted the Board was saying “We have concerns about height but more because we’re not seeing it in context with the other parcel.”
 
“I think we go back to an issue of timing,” she said. “It’s likely going to be, I would say a year, twelve months, before that final design gets to this Board.” Discussions about the parking garage started in 2005, she said, while the housing component is new. “Ideally, they would be presented together. It’s likely that’s not going to be presented any time soon.”
 
Liebman asked, “How can we know if we vote today that there’s a guarantee that that’s going to happen?”
 
Tacket responded, “The City has committed to it. There isn’t any guarantee on any project you’ve approved. There’s never a guarantee once this Board approves something that it’s actually going to move forward and get constructed. We’ve been working on different variations of this garage for ten years. All we can do is give you the best information at the time.” With regard to the arts building, she said there is no design as yet and repeated the City will “likely not have that for 12 months knowing the city’s required processes.”
 
Liebman asked to continue the discussion for another month to get an answer from the Commission on when the east building would be built.
 
Kallergis stepped in to clarify the Board’s process. “First of all, the Board can’t tie up its approval of one project in the approval of another. That would be outside the Board’s authority and I think if the Board made a denial on that basis, I would imagine that the City would appeal the Board’s decision, but I can’t speak to that.”
 
Frustrated, Breslin jumped up and said, “We’re twelve years behind on this garage as it is. I don’t own a car. I could care less whether the garage is ever built, however, we have many businesses that go out of business” in the area, noting four different businesses that have been located in one space. “They can’t survive because there’s no parking. Our area is turning into being blighted because there’s no place for people to park. So, you can stall this project off but it was brought and separated [into two] so we could get going on the garage… with the second project being a phase two. Commission decided to do that so that we wouldn’t be tying this all up and now you want to put it back together? The Commissioners already approved 75 feet. You have no say over that. You have only a say over the design.”
 
Liebman responded, “It can’t be approved because it’s incompatible with the historic district.” 
 
Breslin said the stakeholders in the community all support the garage including representatives of the nearby Davis apartment building “that is 84 feet tall”, the Palm Court commercial building on 23rd Street, the Miami City Ballet, the Bass Museum, and the Public Library all of which have representatives on the Collins Park Neighborhood Association Board. “All on our Board, all saw this proposal, and all said fabulous. Just so you know, it is not just me, Ray Breslin. There is an association. All of the stakeholders are part of the Collins Park Neighborhood Association.”
 
When Pardo asked Shulman if he could create galleries or housing “if the City asked you to.”
 
Tackett said, “All of those uses are appropriate, but it is a policy decision as to what that use is.”
 
Pardo said, “If the applicant up here was a private party, we would say would you accept as a condition that for this project to be approved exactly the way it’s been designed, etc., that if there isn’t an alternative for the use of the studio and artist housing available within the district… that they will put it into this design.”
 
Tacket responded, “Staff doesn’t have the ability to agree to that. The Board doesn’t have the authority to require that.”
 
Pardo said, “We will certainly make a recommendation and I think if the City Commission would approve that, then I think this project could come back and get approved right now without any delay.”
 
Kallergis said it would be up to individual Commissioners to bring such a recommencation up for discussion at a future meeting.
 
Pardo said, “We would want to see arts studios and housing in the ground floor retail of this design if the project that is currently contemplated for this district that is adjacent or across the street, that that project should not be proceeding by design and funding and construction.”
 
In the event the second building did not come to fruition, “That ground floor space [in the garage] would be preserved for art studios and art housing… This is, to me, just a backstop for what we don’t know is coming down with regard to the other project. I don’t think this is ever, ultimately, going to be the use for all of this space. Now maybe some of it will be art studio potentially…”
 
Kallergis interjected again, “Just remember this is a policy recommendation. This is, ultimately, the Commission’s call. It’s not a basis for you to approve or deny a project.”
 
Pardo pushed further. “But I want to make it very clear to the Commission that… what the Board is going to be sending as a message to the Commission is that this project would not be compatible with this neighborhood unless and until we fully look at this as a project that is for the community which means that’s where the art studio and the art housing comes into play. Now if that can be satisfied through some adjacent property, fantastic. Then we don’t need to be concerned about the fact that it may not be housed in this project but there’s a concern about the compatibility of this project without those components and that’s what’s really, what I think is going to give you comfort that we’re not trying to tell the Commission how this project should be used.”
 
“Compatibility is within your purview if you’re talking about design,” Kallergis said. “If you’re making decisions on compatibility that are not based on the design, that are based on the uses, you are exceeding your authority. I’m just telling you. Full stop.”
 
Pardo continued, “I would not allow for this design currently unless I know that art studio, I know that total use of this building is going to be consistent with the compatibility of the neighborhood.”
 
"Respectfully, that’s not what the criteria means,” Kallergis responded. “Compatibility as design would be features, really like what Nancy’s bringing up, like height or massing, but compatibility from a standpoint of uses is outside of your purview and you – I’m just telling you as your attorney. As your attorney, I have an obligation to tell you – you would be exceeding your authority.”
 
Liebman said, “Then I think we have to deny the project until there is a 50 ft building here and, maybe in the next twenty years, they’ll build the art center. We’re trying to get together in a compromise. This is not a little change here and there. Either we’re going to support it with what they say in this [resolution] that they are going to have art studios. That’s missing.”
 
Kallergis said, “I’m trying to help you out because I know what your concerns are, but the uses cannot be a basis for your decision. I don’t want to have to repeat myself again.”
 
Pardo said, “I think I’m going to make it very clear. We are not going to be telling you about uses in our denial of this application, but I’m going to suggest that we continue this to July and then my hope is that we will then make a recommendation to the City Commission that will perhaps help us in our deliberation in July.”
 
“My goal here is not to delay for any extended period of time,” Pardo added. “The community’s waited long enough… We’re just asking to get some clarity on some of these issues that are of concern.”
 
Kallergis asked for any feedback on the design which is what the Board usually provides when they continue an application.  
 
“My comment would be lower it by 20 feet if that’s what it’s going to take to get it approved,” Pardo answered. “But I don’t want to give that comment because I may be willing to look at other mitigating factors… I really don’t want you to change it at this moment. The height does concern me. I can consider mitigating factors.”
 
Kirk Paskal asked Liebman and Pardo “What sort of assurance are we asking from the Commission that they haven’t already stated in the resolution? To me, I read this resolution that they’re committed to providing affordable housing… on the empty lot that they have. The way I see it the resolution does state their commitment to putting affordable housing [there].” In addition to the resolution, he said, “They’re in process of issuing an RFP. From what I understand, that’s in process.”
 
“We’re one entity. We’re one city that’s supposed to be working together,” Paskal said, “and it’s feeling a little bit like developing dysfunction to me and I don’t think the neighborhood should necessarily suffer because of that and I’m not sure if we did wait two months what else the City Commission could give us that they haven’t already stated in a voted on resolution. I’m asking. In two months, you’re not going to have anything other than another sheet of paper.”
 
Pardo said to Breslin, “I think you’ve waited twelve years. If it takes until September to have this finally approved, I don’t think that that’s going to be such irreparable harm to anyone including the City or the neighborhood.”
 
“I want to make sure that the message that we deliver to the Commission is the right message,” Pardo added, “and I feel like we are at odds with the City Attorney staff because, maybe the way I’m articulating it is not maybe the most diplomatic. I mean to be sincere in saying that if we can get some clarity on how this is going to be compatible with what else is going to be done in the neighborhood as it relates to what this resolution is stating then I think it will help us to then be able to move this project forward.”
 
The Board then passed a recommendation for a change of use to house artist studios and housing if the other project doesn’t go through.
 
With two members absent, the Board voted 4-1 in favor of the recommendation. Liebman, Pardo, Finglass, and Scott Needelman voted yes. Paskal voted no.
 
Pardo concluded, “We are ultimately wanting to get this approved and I would say, Ray [Breslin] don’t be discouraged... we’re really looking out for the neighborhood interests as well and for the interests of the community in terms of those areas that are of most importance.”
 
 
Rendering: Shulman + Associates
 

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