Deauville Update: Expect a Protracted Legal Battle

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Deauville Update: Expect a Protracted Legal Battle:

Little progress as historic hotel remains shuttered, continues to deteriorate

Miami Beach City Attorney Raul Aguila told Commissioners this week that the City’s lawsuit against the owners of the Deauville Hotel for demolition by neglect is “litigation that we will likely be into for the long term and will most likely be adversarial.” This week, Commissioners directed the Administration to pursue “any and all aggressive remedies” to get a resolution.

The City filed suit in February 2019 in an effort to force the owners of the iconic hotel to make the necessary repairs following damage from an electrical fire in July 2017 which forced its closure. The damage was compounded by Hurricane Irma two months later. It is the first time the City has tested its demolition by neglect ordinance. 

Frustration has grown over the time that has passed since the original court filing and the further deterioration that has occurred in the meantime. Surrounding businesses say the closure has taken its toll on them while nearby residents say the trespassers and blight are impacting property values and public safety.

At this week’s City Commission meeting, Commissioner Steven Meiner sought increased civil penalties as further leverage but due to legal concerns about discussing specific strategies, direction was given instead to pursue “any and all aggressive remedies” which could include the additional penalties as well as other options. Meiner wants to capture civil penalties “up to $5,000 per day” as provided for in City Code and seek a renewal of the City’s request for a receiver for the hotel.

Calling the Deauville “the crown jewel of North Beach,” Meiner said the continued closure of the hotel was having a “significant economic hardship in the North Beach area” in addition to negatively impacting the City’s resort tax revenues and increasing the risk of losing a historic asset.

“I feel it’s the only option,” he said of his resolution. Since the City’s legal action, Meiner said, “The Deauville has failed to make the repairs, has ignored court orders, and there’s been no adverse consequences. If repairs are not made soon, the Deauville is going to be beyond saving.”

“There has been no meaningful activity” since the City filed its suit, Meiner said. In the meantime, “the deterioration of the Deauville has only gotten worse."

Saying he couldn’t think of a more appropriate situation to apply the civil penalties, Meiner noted, “We all want to resolve this. We want a thriving Deauville back open and running. Our residents are demanding it. Our City Commission is advocating for it. Our historic preservationists are championing it.”

Discussion on the item was fairly vague and limited as anything on the record in the public forum could be used by the Deauville against the City in court proceedings. 

Mayor Dan Gelber, who has had several “frustrating” meetings with the Deauville owners, said, “This has been really a blight on the City,” but added “I don’t want us to shoot ourselves in the foot while discussing the specifics” of Meiner’s resolution. 

Aguila presented a broader resolution directing the Administration to pursue “any and all aggressive remedies” which, he said, would include additional administrative actions such as the action taken previously through the Miami-Dade County Unsafe Structures Board and further Code Enforcement actions including the penalties suggested by Meiner. 

“I want us to pursue any and all remedies as aggressively as possible as we have done,” Aguila told Commissioners, “but I want to reaffirm our commitment to do so.”

City Commissioner Michael Góngora, who lives near the shuttered hotel, was a co-sponsore of Meiner’s ordinance but during the discussion decided to advocate for Aguila’s ordinance.

“It’s sad to see its impact on the neighboring businesses,” Góngora said. “We do need to take some more aggressive stance against them.”

“The City Attorney’s resolution is probably a little better because it’s more expansive, opening the door to all specific and aggressive tactics,” he said. “Let’s get tough. The Deauville’s not taking this seriously. We’re not getting a result and we need to get a result.”

Meiner expressed frustration that the additional civil penalties have not been asserted to this point and urged Commissioners to pass his resolution directing the Administration to apply them. “If we don’t pass this today, a year from now I’m going to be bringing this initiative again and we’re going to be having the same conversation.”

Gelber responded, “It’s not as if there’s a single member of the dais that doesn’t want the Deauville to have a change in what’s going on.” 

Gelber pointed to a new law to penalize demolition by neglect that applies to the Deauville owners. The ordinance requires that owners who purposely let a historic property fall into disrepair and are forced to demolish it, must restore the building within its original contours in an effort “to eliminate the motive for having people to do that which is what we think the owners of the Deauville are,” Gelber said. But, now, through the law, “If you achieve demolition by neglect, you have to restore the property. You don’t get the property you want. You have to restore the property.”

“I think their game here is demolition by neglect. Their game is to make the property in disrepair so that it is dangerous and, therefore, must be demolished,” Gelber said. According to Aguila, the Deauville's owners are challenging the constitutionality of that ordinance.

While noting the City will continue to pursue aggressive action, Aguila cautioned, “I want to manage expectations. This could turn out to be long protracted litigation… We have a very adversarial plaintiff with deep pockets.” The Deauville is owned by the Meruelo family of Miami Beach.

Commissioners passed Aguila’s broader resolution by a vote of 6-1. 

Meiner, the lone “no” vote, said, “I don’t see this resolution as advancing the ball… We could have been doing this all along.”

The 538-room oceanfront hotel was designed by architect Melvin Grossman and constructed in 1957. It is noted for being a favored location for entertainers such as Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, and others but it is best known for hosting the Beatles’ February 1964 performance on The Ed Sullivan Show. 

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