Deauville Hotel: A Long Road Back

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Deauville Hotel: A Long Road Back:

Closed since last July, interior condition of building still not known

Despite what the owners say is a “diligent” effort to get the Deauville Hotel up and running again, Commissioners heard this week it will be a long, slow road to getting there and they can expect the iconic Miami Beach hotel to be closed for at least two more years. 
The Deauville was shut down following an electrical fire last July. When Hurricane Irma hit, the hotel was especially vulnerable without electricity to operate pumps and air conditioning. Because of safety factors, no one has been inside to inspect the damage and potential mold issues. Meanwhile, broken windows continue to expose the interior of the hotel to the elements.
Following concerns from local businesses who have felt the loss of the hotel and neighboring condo associations worried about the building’s deteriorating condition and safety issues, Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez led a charge to push things along. After several months of what she felt was inaction and lack of response from the owners, she asked the City “to take aggressive action to force them into compliance” with all regulations including exploring a demolition by neglect order. The Land Use Committee affirmed her request and forwarded it to the full Commission.
In a Letter to Commission, City Manager Jimmy Morales urged Commissioners to find other alternatives before going the route of demolition by neglect which could force the City to spend millions of dollars to restore the Deauville, if the City was successful with its claim. “The Administration is quite wary of taking on any obligation with respect to this building beyond the regulatory function we now perform,” Morales wrote. “This is a very, large historic building. The costs of even minimal remediation could be extensive, perhaps even into the millions of dollars. Even if we had a funding source, there is no way to ensure that the owners have the financial wherewithal to reimburse the City for any work we might perform. So long as the building remains vacant, it does not pose a hazard to anyone. I think we should fully explore all other alternatives before even seriously considering taking on the financial and logistical obligation of renovating the Deauville.”
This week, a member of the family that owns the hotel appeared before Commissioners at their monthly meeting to address the concerns.
Rosen Gonzalez said, “The entire commercial zone is suffering because of [the closure].” While acknowledging the problems the hotel has had getting electrical permits, she said, “We need some sort of reassurance that the Deauville is going to be restored because it’s one of our greatest historic resources. The Beatles famously played at the Deauville and the entire community is upset.”
She held up “a 30 page Powerpoint from the condominium next door” expressing concerns. “The blight on the property is causing a serious problem,” she said. “[The neighbors] said it’s very dangerous. The gates in the back are slightly open. People can get in but most importantly we just want to make sure that we can help you in any way.”
Melissa Meruelo, representing her family, said that first she wanted to “correct public statements that were made incorrectly at the last meeting.”
“We have been called neglectful for not answering emails,” she said. “I just want to set the record straight. I personally have received one email on January 3rd and since then we have spoken up here before a meeting of the Commissioners.” She was referring to the April Land Use and Development Committee meeting in which she updated members on the hotel’s status.
“My father hasn’t received any emails and I also checked my 80-year-old grandmother’s emails and she hasn’t received any either,” she continued. “That being said, since the property closed on July 25th, we have been working 5 days a week diligently. We haven’t taken a week off yet.”
“At any time,” she noted, “there can be between 5 to 50 workers all on our payroll and we are working towards getting electrical power.”
“We’ve been working closely with [Miami Beach Building Official] Ana Salguero who has been collaborating with us. We have pulled several permits, we have complied with all of the inspections.”
Unfortunately, she said, they have hit a snag with FPL which has told the owners they need to rebuild the FPL vault. “So, in order to get full power, it could be a 9 to 12-month process.”
“In the last meeting,” of the Land Use Committee, Meruelo said, “many statements were made that we’re not doing all the work we could do. I don’t know what more work we could do without full power.”
Salguero said she and the City Manager met with Meruelo, her family, their lawyers, engineer, and architect this week. It has been a complicated process to get all of the permits necessary due to current code changes since the hotel was built but those permits are now in place. 
The FPL issue is similar, she said. In order to meet current code, the electrical vault needs to be raised above street level and upgraded. Salguero said she will join the owners in working with FPL to see if there is a way to get partial power restored with a commitment that the owners will restore the vault to the new specifications so repairs can begin.
In the meantime, she said, she has spoken with the owners “about securing the pool level to make sure someone can’t easily just come in through the back.” Once temporary power is restored, Salguero said she is seeking to have more lighting on the exterior of the property “to keep the area more secure and safe.”
Salguero said she is focused on emergency repairs at this point. “They have plans to do major renovations to the building. Those will take longer but it’s at least to get the temporary things up and running. The hotel may not be open for a while but if we don’t get certain emergency things taken care of” the building will continue to deteriorate.
“The building was not in the best shape when they had the fire,” she said, “and if it continues to be uncared for it [will keep] declining so anything we can do, I can do to help them, get the power so that they can continue doing the work is where I’m working with them to try to get that taken care of.”
Meruelo added, “Obviously we can’t enter the building to assess the safety of the structure without full power so that’s going to determine the extent of the development plans.” They have engaged architect Kobi Karp to help. 
She noted that a resident at the last Land Use meeting asked what the City could do to help. “Perhaps offer some forms of incentives,” she said. “And I come to ask you, instead of pursuing aggressive action, you could perhaps work with the owners instead of against the owners and maybe pursue some collaborative action so that we can reopen as soon as possible.”
When Rosen Gonzalez asked about incentives, Morales said, “We don’t really have any incentive packages for private property owners to fix their properties. We obviously use more of the stick than carrot and there are about $300,000 worth of liens on the property but I think the best we can do is work as we’re doing, work cooperatively with them, try to understand their problem, gain access to the property so we can do inspections and see what’s going on.”
“I know the challenge in North Beach was the impact economically on all the small businesses but quite candidly – and Kobi Karp was at the meeting yesterday – they have a very elaborate redevelopment plan but even without that elaborate redevelopment plan, you’ve got a building that’s been closed for months, rain, possible molding, windows that are broken. This is a repair job that is probably a two-year endeavor to reopen even without a redevelopment so we can try to work with them to expedite as much as possible but reopening of this building any time soon is highly unlikely.” Morales said he didn’t want to put words in the family’s mouth but that was his guess. Meruelo did not contradict him.
“I think the most important thing we can do is what Ana said. We can make sure the property is clean, that the fences are up, and that the property’s safe to the outside public and that’s what we can do,” Morales told Commissioners.
Rosen Gonzalez told Meruelo, “I’m sorry that you found our action aggressive. My only intention was to answer all of these residents in the surrounding condos and businesses who are really suffering because of the closure of the Deauville. Sales at those businesses are down 40 percent. Your neighbors are very upset, and it is an iconic hotel and we want to make sure the Deauville remains so.”
“We didn’t hear from you and we had directed staff to reach out to you and we weren’t getting a response so I’m sorry that we got to where we are, but I’m happy to know that you have retained an architect and that your intention is to renovate the Deauville,” she said.
With rumors of the hotel being up for sale, Rosen Gonazalez said, “We just wanted to make sure it was not demolished… you guys own a piece of who we are as a city.”
Meruelo responded, “We take a lot of pride in owning the hotel. Nobody is suffering financially like we are. We had about 300 employees, some of which had been with us for over 20 years, and it’s our priority to get back up and running.”

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