BHI Miami Limited plans to renovate the Seagull which most recently operated as a Days Inn, restore the building’s primary façade, and construct two attached additions on the south and east sides. Last month, the Mayor and City Commission approved the vacation of a portion of the City’s right-of-way on 21st Street to provide an additional 6,736 sq. ft. for the property and the ability to construct rooftop and ground level additions on the site. In exchange for the vacation of the right-of-way which includes a perpetual easement back to the City for use, BHI will pay the City a public benefit fee of $7.4 million.
The Seagull, originally constructed in 1950, was designed by Albert Anis in the Post-War Modern style. It currently stands at eight stories and 83 feet tall. The approved plans would increase the height to nine stories and 106 feet. Bvlgari plans to reduce the room count from 145 to 100, increasing the size of the rooms to fit the brand. Amenities will include a ground level restaurant and second level spa. The 15-ft tall rooftop addition includes a pool and deck. Rear yard enhancements include significant landscaping and construction of a new pool and deck.
In the application letter to the HPB, attorney Carter McDowell of Bilzin Sumberg said the Bvlgari Hotel Miami Beach “will help elevate the cultural and hotel experience on Miami Beach in keeping with the City’s stated goals to do so.”
“Bvlgari Hotels & Resorts is a joint venture between the 150 year-old luxury Italian jeweler Bvlgari and Marriott International and is the leading luxury hospitality collection in the world,” according to McDowell’s application letter. “Its current extraordinary locations include Milan, Bali, London, Beijing, Dubai, and Shanghai. In five of these six locations they rank first (and second in the one remaining location) in average daily room rate performance when compared to top performing hotels in their respective locations. Worldwide, Bvlgari Hotels ranks number 2 out of 26 competitors with an overall luxury brand score of 93.2%. In addition to Miami Beach, future hotel openings include other worldwide cosmopolitan cities including Paris, Rome, Moscow, and Tokyo.” (The "v" in Bvlgari is pronounced as a "u.")
At the HPB hearing, McDowell told the Board, “This is the right project at the right time for Miami Beach. We are literally taking a former Days Inn and converting it to a five plus star luxury product… It’s exactly what the City of Miami Beach has sought to achieve to elevate the guest experience throughout Miami Beach.”
He added, “The Bvlgari brand is involved in arts and culture in each of their locations and they look forward to being part of the Collins Park neighborhood as we move forward.” Collins Park is home to the Bass Museum and Miami City Ballet. The New World Symphony and Fillmore Miami Beach are nearby.
The local architect is Luis Revuelta. Citterio-Viel & Partners, based in Milan, Italy, are the exterior and interior designers for Bvlgari Hotels worldwide. At the HPB hearing, Patricia Viel told Board members Bvlgari’s site selections “always falls on exceptional location” and areas “full of energy and cultural intensity.”
“This is why, at the end, they decided that Miami Beach should have been the first location for the first USA Bulgari hotel,” Viel said. “Not only because of the location and the prestige” of the area but also for its architecture. “Regeneration of the historic building is actually an integral part of the design approach that we embraced as a concept.”
“One of the pillars of the concept is the belonging to a place and how we can contribute to the regeneration and cultural growth” of an area, she added.
Potential ChallengeWhile the project enjoys the support of the Collins Park Neighborhood Association and the Miami Design Preservation League Advocacy Committee, the neighboring Setai is objecting to the hotel addition to the south. Attorney Kent Harrison Robbins, representing the Dempsey-Vanderbilt and the Setai Resort and Residences Condominium Association, claims it has protected views which will be obscured if the Bvlgari project moves forward as approved. (Photo above shows the Setai on the left, the Dempsey-Vanderbilt in the center, and the Seagull Hotel to the right.)
In the application letter and at the HPB hearing, McDowell emphasized, “The height of the Bvlgari with the rooftop addition is 9 stories and 105’11”. By comparison, the Setai parking pedestal to the south is 11 stories and 107’-9” tall and the tower is more than three times as tall at 393’-7”. The renovation also includes the thoughtful removal of a portion of the building’s southwest corner to pull the structure further away from the Setai hotel rooms located to the west and will create a truly four-sided design, replacing the plain rear/back of house view the Setai rooms currently face.”
He notes the oceanfront Seagull once had direct views of the ocean, “but these views were cut off by the development of the Setai; these rooms now directly face the rear façade of the Setai’s 11-story parking garage.”
"We will affect some of the views in some of the rooms in the Art Deco part of the Setai Hotel," McDowell told the HPB. "We will not entirely block the ocean view from any of those rooms. There is no view of the ocean below the fifth floor because of the landscaping and other things that occur between it and the beach. Those rooms are a thousand feet from the water, a thousand feet, three football fields away... that is the ocean view they are somehow claiming we are negatively impacting."
Robbins said he’s “still hoping to compromise” and his clients are not opposing the entire project but a particular part, the south addition. “Otherwise,” he said it’s a “wonderful” and “well-planned” project.
The HPB appeal period is 20 days after the final order is rendered.
Request to Explore Restoring Historic SignageBoard members, generally, liked the project as designed but approved a minor change to window placement on the east side to be more compatible with the western portion of the original building and made a request that the applicant do its best to restore the historic signage. (See postcard image above.)
“I think there’s great elegance in restraint,” Board member Rick Lopez said. “I really appreciate this proposal for presenting us with a great level of restraint and what I think will be a really elegant hotel.”
Laura Weinstein-Berman noted, “The building really has not been taken care of the way it should have been for a very, very long time so I do look forward to seeing this project move forward.”
“The juxtaposition of old versus new is extremely important,” she said, agreeing the new additions are placed together with the original building in a way that is “very restrained, elegant.”
While McDowell said Bvlgari is more restrained in its use of signage, he said the owners would work with City staff to review the potential for reincorporating the historic Seagull signage. The biggest challenge, he said, would be from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection which has strict regulations with regard to beach-facing light that could disturb nesting sea turtles.
Weinstein-Berman summed up the opinions across the Board. “It is such an important feature of Mid-Century Modern architecture.”
McDowell said they would explore signage with limited lighting and if there was an issue, the owners will come back to the Board to discuss further.
After the approval, McDowell told RE:MiamiBeach once the timeline for appeals has lapsed or pending the end of any litigation, it is anticipated to take two to three years to complete permitting and construction.
Full HPB application is here.
Renderings courtesy Citterio-Viel & Partners and Revuelta Architecture International
Photo of Dempsey-Vanderbilt courtesy Kent Harrison Robbins, PA