Collins Park Hotel Work Included More Demolition Than Approved

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Collins Park Hotel Work Included More Demolition Than Approved:

Chagrined development team promises full restoration

At this month’s Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board meeting, representatives for the developers of the Collins Park Hotel project were forced to ask for after-the-fact approval of demolition on one entire building and features of several others. The project is a large undertaking involving the renovation and restoration of seven contributing buildings, construction of roof-top additions, and a new five-story ground level addition that are part of a new hotel development. It encompasses buildings at 2000 Park Avenue, 2030 Park Ave, 425 Park Ave, 435 20th Street, 430 21st Street, 450 21st Street and 2035 Washington Avenue in the City’s Collins Park Neighborhood. In most cases, due to severe neglect and deterioration, the structures were gutted and their facades propped up as part of the restoration. The properties are controlled by LLCs owned by brothers Juda, Meyer, and Joseph Chetrit.
At some point the Sun King #2, a former apartment building that was approved for partial demolition as part of the original Historic Preservation Board (HPB) approval of the development in 2012, was completely demolished without required building permits or an amended approval by the HPB. The Sun King #2 (below) was designed by Milton Sherman and constructed in 1947.

In its report to the HPB, Miami Beach Planning Department staff wrote that there was some additional unapproved demolition to a couple of other buildings on the site including decorative architectural elements on the old Collins Park Hotel and side entry porches on the Sun King #1 building. A terrazzo rose compass that was located in the courtyard of the old Adams Hotel has been removed. What raised the issues to the City’s attention was an inquiry by Ray Breslin, President of the Collins Park Neighborhood Association, who was concerned the windows on one of the structures were not correct. When City staff went out to review the windows, they discovered the missing building and other elements.
Miami Beach Design and Preservation Manager Debbie Tackett noted “Construction has been slow” on the project, but that it has speeded up in the past year. “Staff is very hopeful this project will be completed in the near future.” 
That said, she indicated, “The previous scope of demolition had been increased without approval, most notably the demolition of the public interior spaces that were originally approved to be retained and restored.” 
Given the amount of documentation available, Tackett said she is “relatively confident that most, if not all, of these elements that were lost during construction could be reintroduced.” She added that when the HPB approved the project in 2012, “[T]here had already been a significant amount of fire damage done so we weren’t starting in some instances with perfectly pristine public interiors.” At the time, it was anticipated those areas would need to be reconstructed. 
In recommending approval of the after-the-fact demolition, she said, “We would like to see this project complete as soon as possible. It will be an asset for the City and I know the Collins Park neighborhood is anxious to get this project finished.”
Rendering of completed Collins Park Hotel
Attorney Matthew Amster assured the Board the owners are committed to the original project and to the restoration of the erroneously destroyed building and other features. He said, “We are hoping to have it opened by the end of next year if not sooner.”
Trying to explain how the Sun King #2 came down, he described the “very serious neglect” that occurred over a period of twenty years in which the buildings were no longer occupied with the deterioration compounded by arson fires in 2011 that damaged multiple buildings.
Amster said the owners, who purchased the properties shortly after, are “no stranger to historic preservation” having been involved with the Versaille, Fairwinds, and Tides Hotels and he promised, “This will be preserved and replicated to the best extent possible.”
HPB member John Stuart asked how the Board could avoid being faced with this situation again.
Tackett responded the staff has begun “getting more detail up front in terms of the structural feasibility” of proposals. In the case of the Collins Park Hotel, there were major excavations below grade and “more attention should have been given to the feasibility of how that was going to be done.”
She noted that “Some of these buildings are very difficult to shore up due to the nature of the quality of the initial 1930s construction. Going forward we should be looking at those types of details” and including engineers in the original review process to understand complexities and feasibility.
Board member Scott Needelman said, “When you get into projects like this you just never know what you’re going to find. You never know what’s out there until you start opening walls and exploring and getting into the buildings. I understand that this has happened. I don’t put any blame on the current owner. I remember driving by those buildings years ago when all the braces were around the building, right after the fires and they bought it. The first thing they did was try to preserve as much as they can so when you have an owner doing that and then this type of thing comes up whether it’s additional demolition, you need to give yourself some sort of credit for doing the best they can… hopefully it will be finished soon because nobody wants to drive by and see those buildings like that much longer.”
Member Rick Lopez wasn’t in such a hospitable mood. “Can someone answer more technically what happened to the building because I’m not really satisfied with your previous answer,” he told Amster.
Amster responded, “From my knowledge, remember you’re preserving the front portions of a building and them demolishing the back of it and these buildings are all very close together, there’s not a lot of space in between…”
Lopez interrupted him. “Perhaps the architect or engineer could explain more accurately what happened to this building, because buildings don’t just fall.”
Architect Kobi Karp also tried to come up with an answer. “Basically, there is a basement that is being built. The contractor on this project… they’re from New York. Rinaldi. This is their first project in Miami and Miami Beach. The shell contractor and the structure allowed, if you will, for those buildings to fall. We had them, as you recall before, supported with steel beams and so they came down.”
“In these old buildings you find more things than you care to find but still there’s no excuse for that and so the buildings came down,” he said.
“It’s my first time doing this and I hope it’s the last,” he said of having to accurately reconstruct buildings that were demolished to a greater extent than approved.
Lopez said, “I see how complex this must be to preserve these buildings all around the block while doing so much work in the middle of the block.” He questioned, “Was this the original intent of the builder to let the building go… to make way to facilitate construction?”
Karp said that was not the case.
Frustrated Lopez said, “The penalty is to accurately reconstruct…”
Despite significant detail provided by historic preservation consultant Arthur Marcus, Tackett said, “This is not an easy task.” She noted new code requirements plus modern conveniences such as air conditioning “make some replications impossible.”
“The goal is to bring it back to its original construction modified as minimally as possible for current building codes,” Tackett said. Marcus has provided photos he took in 1999 before the fires.
Board Chair Stevan Pardo also pressed on how to prevent “unintended” demolitions in the future. He agreed with Tackett on doing further analysis of the feasibility of projects but that is before permits are pulled, he said. How, he asked Karp, do you prevent it from happening once work starts, wondering if having a historic consultant like Marcus on site during demolition would help.

One idea, Karp said, is to require cameras on site which they now have on the Collins Park property. He also liked Pardo’s idea for a historic consultant. “We should have someone like an Arthur Marcus on site” to ensure the HPB’s intent is followed. 
“This is the first time it’s ever happened to me on my job sites and it’s a unique situation. And it’s very, very regretful,” Karp said. “In retrospect, yes, if we do have someone like Arthur who’s there on an ongoing basis, yes, it would be important to have somebody like that, paid by the developer not the City. It’s a development cost. Not a public cost.”
Board member Kirk Paskal pressed further. “I’m still pretty perplexed…” Regarding the building, he asked, “It fell or was taken down?”
Karp responded, “I personally don’t know the answer to that. The structure itself, all of the structures there were reinforced and held up, so as far as I’m concerned it was demolition that occurred on the site and the Sun King was completely demolished… I wasn’t physically there and I tried to figure out the answer as well. At the end of the day … nothing has ever stopped me from reinforcing a historic structure in the past.”
Lopez said, “I’m kind of concerned about the precedent this sets for going forward. The next contractor who accidentally knocks down a building and parts of other buildings, he’s going to come in and ask for a green light too. I just don’t understand. The contractor has to be penalized in some way. Does the city have some type of penalty in place for this type of accident?”
Chief Deputy City Attorney Eve Boutsis said, “Our Code doesn’t provide for that.”
That seems odd,” Lopez said, “because another contractor could come in from out of state and we could see this again. I don’t see what’s going to prevent this from happening again because the cost of rebuilding is probably minor compared to the overall project budget.”
Pardo said, “This is going to be an ongoing dialogue with the City and staff and with us on this project. I don’t want to take away from the beauty and splendor of what this product is going to be to the community… I don’t want to take away from what the applicant has done to date in this City to preserve and protect” historic buildings. 
"We do not want to disincentivize or really to scare away those who want to preserve and protect and develop in this City as a common theme because it’s not easy to do what is being done in this project.” But, Pardo continued, “You take risk and that risk also has potential for penalty and the oversight and scrutiny that, I think, we’re going to expect going forward.”
With two members absent (Nancy Liebman and Jack Finglass), the after-the-fact demolition required all five members present to vote in favor. On an initial vote, Lopez voted no meaning the motion failed and work would not have been able to proceed reconstructing the lost building and other elements.

Breslin asked the Board to reconsider. “They need to move forward. We all need to move forward,” he said. “They can’t move forward restoring the building that came down, however it came down.” Without approval, Breslin said, “You’re stalling the whole project… I hope you  reconsider your vote. It’s for our neighborhood and believe me, we’re all going to watch” to ensure it’s done right, he said.
Lopez said, “I’m more concerned about other historic buildings than I am about this project, its timeliness and its budget. To grant permission to demolish after the fact, I don’t understand.”
While he said he liked what he was hearing about the painstaking detail to reconstruct, he said, “I just don’t understand how are we going to protect the rest of the historic buildings in Miami Beach by granting this approval.”
Boutsis said the full Board could have a discussion to discuss ideas for increasing scrutiny on future projects.
The Board then agreed to Lopez’ request that subcontractors on the reconstruction submit samples and qualifications for the work. 
With additional conditions such as detailed drawings of the planned restoration for the interiors, no issuance of a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy or final Certificate of Occupancy until the Board was satisfied with the restoration work, a progress report in 120 days, and no parking credits until the Board approved the work, all five members present voted to approve the after-the-fact demolition. 
Lopez asked for a statement from the General Contractor detailing “why the building came down, why they demolished the buildings so that it’s available for the record.”
Pardo said, “As the Chair I feel like this is on my watch and I’m expressing on behalf of everyone here and Nancy and Jack who are not here, that we want to see this project finished and everything to be done exactly the way you think we and the staff would want it to be done. Please, please don’t disappoint us. You will reflect on the entire community by what you do and to show that what we did by helping you move along in the process is not a reward for demolition by accident or however it happened but in a desire to help preserve the community and the integrity of the project… When you come back to us in 120 days we hope you give us really good news and tell us the truth and the whole truth. Don’t hold anything back, please.”
Rendering of Collins Park Hotel, Kobi Karp
Photos of Sun King #2, City of Miami Beach

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