International Inn Historic Designation Moves Forward with Zoning Changes to Allow 80-ft Tall Addition

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

International Inn Historic Designation Moves Forward with Zoning Changes to Allow 80-ft Tall Addition:

After 3 years of discussion, Miami Beach Commission approves development agreement

After three years of discussion, the owners of the iconic International Inn at one of the gateways to Miami Beach have reached agreement with the City to voluntarily designate the property historic in exchange for the right to build an 80-ft tall addition to the hotel. City Commissioners approved the agreement after deferring it for six months due to concerns about the hotel’s operations.

The approval of the 20-year development agreement with Tsay International starts the process for amendments to the City Code that will allow the hotel at 2301 Normandy Drive to be a main permitted use. The hotel became non-conforming when hotel uses were prohibited in RM-1 zoning districts. The Code amendments would also increase the allowable building height on the site from 55 feet to 80, allowing the owners to build an addition utilizing its remaining 10,000 square feet of FAR (Floor Area Ratio). 

In September 2018, attorney Alex Tachmes of Shutts & Bowen, told City Commissioners the height increase would keep the addition away from the historic building, allowing for a more narrow structure on the northern end of the property. He noted Alan Shulman, an architect highly regarded by the preservation community, prepared several massing studies and came up with the slender tower “that would allow the square footage to be added while retaining as much of the historic aspects of [the Inn] as possible.”
“It will be a restored property,” Tachmes emphasized with “a hotel, a restaurant and bar” and a tower designed by Shulman. “It should be a terrific project when it’s done.”

The agreement allows a restaurant and a lobby bar as an accessory use to a restaurant. Planning Board Conditional Use approval will be required for outdoor and open-air ambient entertainment and for an outdoor bar counter. Hours for outdoor ambient entertainment are limited from 10 am to 10 pm unless modified by the Planning Board through the conditional use process.

Old postcard image of the International Inn

The International Inn was built in 1956. It was designed by Melvin Grossman, a protégé of Morris Lapidus, in the post war modern style. It has been owned by Belsa Tsay and her family since 2001.

In May 2017, the Historic Preservation Board (HPB) began an inquiry into the potential of designating the property historic. When the HPB took the first formal action toward designation in October of that year, it was against Tsay’s wishes due to her concerns over restrictions placed on historically designated properties. 

Following conversations with Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL) Executive Director Daniel Ciraldo and Nancy Liebman, an HPB member who acted in an individual capacity as a preservation activist, Tachmes put forward the proposal for the development rights in exchange for voluntary designation. 

There was a brief hiccup in the process when City Commissioners expressed concerns about the hotel’s operations and criminal activity but after a six-month deferral, Tsay took action to improve security and reduce the number of calls for service from police

In a memo to the Mayor and Commissioners, City Manager Jimmy Morales wrote “The International Inn represents an outstanding example of post-war modern architecture and is a gateway icon into North Beach,” adding the Development Agreement “represents a balanced approach to ensure the long term economic and cultural viability of a desired historic asset.” 

After the vote, Tachmes said Belsa Tsay and her son Ricky are “delighted” with the outcome. “When this all began, this was presented as an involuntary designation of an individual historic site which had never been done before in the City.” The Tsays were concerned about losing the ability to use the additional 10,000 sq. ft. available to them, among other things, in the event of historic designation, he explained.

Once the channel was opened with MDPL and Liebman, Tachmes said, “a terrific partnership” began and he became comfortable that both goals could be accomplished. “We could restore it, renovate it, and not lose the additional FAR.” Then, Tachmes said, Shulman developed massing studies showing how they could “juxtapose the historic renovation and restoration with being able to include that additional FAR and that’s what ultimately got us comfortable.” 


“As the process evolved,” the owners began hearing the reaction to the striking glass lobby and sloped roof, he said, “They really became excited about restoring the lobby… We went from ‘Make sure the rights are preserved’ to ‘Wow, this could really be a showpiece.’” 

It was an “organic process,” Tachmes said with “kudos to MDPL and Nancy [Liebman] because had we not been able to have a meaningful conversation about juxtaposing the historic preservation with the additional development rights, I know this would not have gone this far.”

MDPL’s Ciraldo said in a statement to RE:MiamiBeach, “We are looking forward to a bright future for this Miami Modern landmark at the gateway to North Beach. It’s always helpful when the property owners are supportive of historic preservation. By working together on a shared mutual vision that benefits the property owners as well as the public, we were able to move forward cooperatively with the owners. The site lies outside of Miami Beach’s fourteen local historic districts, but plays an important role in the iconic architecture of North Beach. We think this outcome will be a long-term benefit to all.”

Commissioners approved the development agreement on first reading last month. Following Planning Board consideration, the Code amendments will come back to the City Commission for two readings and public hearings. The historic designation is a separate process that also includes Planning Board and Commission approvals and public hearings.

Tachmes said Shulman, the lead architect, has been working on a Master Plan for the site in anticipation of approval. Jamie Straz has been hired on as the executive architect. He expects the overall renovation and restoration of the property along with the addition of the food and beverage elements to proceed once the HPB approves the plans which could happen by the end of next year. The new addition will be a future, “phase two” development, he said.

Details of the development agreement and historical context can be found here.


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