The new tower is what has caused the greatest controversy and consternation. Though City Commissioners approved a height increase for the site from the previous 203-ft limit to 250 feet, both the neighboring Faena House and the Preservation Board pushed back. Eventually the developers reached an agreement with the Faena House and reduced the design of their new tower by 30 feet. The application for the new tower is back before the HPB in February which continued to express concerns about the height at its last meeting despite the neighbors ending their dispute.
As part of the agreement between the developers and the Faena House, an ordinance to reduce the height limit in the Faena District was referred by the City Commission to the Planning Board for review before coming to the full Commission for a vote.
Faena House Board President Tom Stern said the height reduction means the new tower will be 25 feet taller than Faena House at its highest point which he called “reasonable” and “contextual.”
While acknowledging the developers for engaging in substantive discussions, Stern said, “We were not prepared to just have an agreement and everybody sign off and say 'this is your limit on height.'”
“What the Faena House Board pressed for and [the developers] ultimately agreed to was to go back to the City Commission with a height ordinance request to reduce the height to 221 feet” in the Faena Overlay District.
“What we didn’t want was for them to be able to decide, for whatever reason, they didn’t want to proceed and have the zoning in place for someone else to come in and build a building that’s 250-ft plus,” he added. In the event the developers do not get approval to build something on the site, the Faena House has a “covenant sitting in escrow” that will “take affect and run with the land and prohibit anyone else to build beyond the 221 feet.”
“I think the attitude of the Commission [when they approved the height increase] was essentially 'The HPB will have the final say on this and we’re going to approve it because we want Aman to come to Miami Beach,'” Stern said. “I think all of our residents really want Aman to come to Miami Beach and we’re really excited to have them as neighbors.” But, he added, “We were not prepared to sit idly by and let a 280-ft tower be built next to a 222-ft tower,” noting the height the building could have reached measured from the sidewalk with a higher elevation for resiliency and allowable accessory features on its top. “It would have been completely out of context, not just to our building but to the entire historic district," he said.
“Obviously, it’s up to the HPB to make the final determination but I think Aman made a thoughtful, legitimate effort to try and assuage our concerns and really try and appease the Historic Preservation Board knowing their sensitivity around the Raleigh and their sensitivity around height generally up and down the entire Collins Waterfront District,” Stern said. Developer Michael Shvo received HPB approval in September for a new tower behind the historic Raleigh Hotel which he intends to restore but only after negotiating a reduction in height despite City Commission approval of an increase.
Regarding the approved restoration of the Versailles Hotel, Stern said, “We think it’s a great project… It’s long overdue. They’re going to put a tremendous amount of money into it and it’s really beautiful.”
The HPB agreed. After changes to the design for both the restoration and proposed new features to make it more consistent and compatible with the original Roy France-designed building, the Board unanimously gave its support.
During public comment, developer Craig Robins whose company Dacra developed the Design District in Miami and who previously restored numerous properties in Miami Beach including the Tides, Cavalier, Cardozo, Leslie, Victor, Marlin, and Webster lent his support to the project. “There’s a general consensus that the Beach has somewhat declined and is not prospering as much as many of the other neighborhoods in Miami” and he’s often asked for advice or suggestions, he said. “That’s what inspired me to come to speak to you all today.”
“I’m very familiar with Aman Resorts, and I have watched this issue from a distance very carefully,” Robins said. “Sometimes we get so focused on the small issues that we don’t look at the big issues and, to me, the big issue is that this is probably the most important project that is currently contemplated that I know of in Miami Beach. It is one that can change the trend. It is a completely out of the box kind of thing. It’s super high-end.”
“As a preservationist, I still believe that we need to build a community,” he said. “And part of building a community is that when someone really knows what they’re doing and they’re going to do something great, I think we have to give a little bit of latitude. And, so, while I’m not speaking about any specific issue here, I wanted to come to you all today and let you know that two things… one, that this is a potential gamechanger for the City and, secondly, when you’re making these decisions, be somewhat deferential in understanding that Aman knows what they need to do in order to succeed and what we don’t want to do as a community is require things that actually make then not go forward or fail.”
Stern, affirming Faena House’s support, told the HPB that, if approved, “The Versailles Hotel, branded as part of Aman Resorts, will have a profound and positive impact on the Faena District, the Collins Waterfront Historic District, and Miami Beach broadly.”
“Clearly little expense is being spared here,” Stern said. “The Aman Hotel and Residences is the final component, if not the capstone, of the revitalization of the Faena District.”
Former HPB member John Stuart, an FIU Distinguished Professor and Executive Director at the Miami Beach Urban Studios, was on the Board when the project was first presented. He said he appreciated how the project had evolved, adding, “I think this project is at the perfect point to be approved and I fully support it.”
Daniel Ciraldo, Executive Director of the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL), said the group’s “primary concern is for the proper stewardship of the iconic Roy France Versailles art deco skyscraper and its resuscitation from years of unfortunate decline.”
“In addition, the iconic art deco skyline that has brought Miami Beach economic resiliency must be properly protected, including its scale and postcard perfect context,” Ciraldo said. “We understand the Aman Hotel’s high brand profile and their desire to add balconies to the eastern façade to meet their needs.” Though MDPL opposed adding the balconies originally, he said the organization recognized there was support from a majority of the Board to allow them. Changes to reflect feedback from the HPB and MDPL are “more compatible” with the original Roy France design language, he said.
“This is more authentic,” Ciraldo said, adding MDPL is “thrilled with the possibility of the Versailles having new life.” He requested that the Board require the historic restoration be “substantially completed before the construction of a new tower.”
Board Chair Jack Finglass who has been one of the chief critics of the project design and height of the new tower said, “I fully support the restoration of the historic Versailles Hotel and I would very much like to commend the owner, Mr. Doronin, for all the work that he and his architect have done. They have listened to the HPB and I think they’ve gone a great way to make this project as good a project as can be.”
While “there will always be little things people can disagree with,” Finglass said he was “very pleased with what we see now… We really need to move forward with this to make sure this building is restored, protected and used for the benefit of all in Miami Beach.”
Neisen Kasdin, Akerman LLP Miami Office Managing Partner representing the developers said once approval is received for the new tower, OKO Group intends to “move immediately on work on the historic Versailles.”
The Board unanimously approved the restoration plans for the Versailles and agreed to a condition that the restoration and renovation be substantially completed before a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy (TCO) or Certificate of Occupancy (CO) is issued for the new residential building.
Following the approval, Doronin’s OKO Group released this statement:
“We appreciate that the Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board took time to understand how our vision for Aman Miami will benefit the Faena District and preserve the iconic Versailles Hotel while contributing to the local economy and elevating Miami Beach’s status as a global destination. The board’s favorable vote is consistent with the widespread support that Aman Miami has earned in the neighborhood and the Miami Beach community.
“The development of Aman Miami will infuse the City with hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment, resulting in more than 400 new jobs for the community and millions of dollars in new property and resort tax revenues each year.
“Aman has a proud history of delivering high-end, low-impact properties which are respectful of their physical surroundings and the history and culture of their communities – including 13 resorts bordering UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We will continue this tradition in Miami Beach as we restore the Versailles Hotel to greatness. We thank the members of the Historic Preservation Board for supporting what will surely become the most preeminent hotel and residential development in Miami Beach.
Renderings: Revuelta Architecture International