Owners of Normandy Plaza Hotel Working with City on Plans for Repairs

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Owners of Normandy Plaza Hotel Working with City on Plans for Repairs:

Activity follows threat of demolition, potential restriction on future development

The owners of the Normandy Plaza Hotel which has been boarded up since 2013 and was on the brink of demolition just two months ago have begun engaging with the City on plans for future repairs. After repeated extensions and failures by the owners to comply with the 40-year recertification requirements for the building, Miami Beach Building Official Ana Salguero asked City Commissioners in July to approve a waiver for an emergency demolition contract, if needed, following an unsafe structure designation from the County.
Salguero told Commissioners then that with the threat of demolition, a representative of the property owners – Vilarino Property Group – contacted the City but she noted, “The owner’s done this before where they show up with information toward the end so one of the things I’ve asked for is a structural report. It is an unsafe structure and has been. There has been no recertification of the structure and it’s been vacant and we don’t know how bad it is, quite frankly, because no one’s been inside in years.” Salguero said she wasn’t “going to run out and demolish it” but wanted to be able to have the threat of demolition as a negotiating point. Commissioners voted to grant the waiver but asked that demolition be a last resort and that they receive updates on the progress. In the meantime, several Commissioners indicated they wanted to explore disincentives for owners who failed to improve their properties.
Commissioner Ricky Arriola said, “One of the things that I’m thinking about bringing forward is trying to create some disincentives for this to happen… it’s gotta sting when this happens. Not only are we losing historic buildings but it’s blight on our neighborhood.” He suggested fines and the potential of taking away FAR (Floor Area Ratio or density). “Take away any incentive they have for allowing this to happen because this sends a signal to the market that [if] they can’t make the economics of their building work, just sit on it long enough and have demolition by neglect and they can come back with a much more profitable project long term.” 
Mayor Dan Gelber agreed, though he wasn’t sure taking away FAR would be so easy to do. “If somebody’s going to allow their property for years to fester and blight a neighborhood, then they ought not just be able to wait us out and they ought to have to be forced to do something to the property or to pay a fine or to lose the property, frankly. Because it just isn’t right especially with some of these properties that are historic.” He urged Arriola to work with the City Attorney to bring something back to the Commission in September.
The Normandy Plaza Hotel is classified as a contributing building within the North Beach Resort Local Historic District. The three-story building was designed by L. Murrary Dixon and constructed in 1936. As a result, it is under the jurisdiction of the Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board (HPB). At its July meeting, the HPB urged the City to hold off on demolishing the building until after its September meeting, if possible, so they could get further information about the building’s condition and the potential for saving it. 

The principals in Vilarino Property Group are listed as Antonio Vilarino, Nilda Vilarino, Miriam Vilarino, and Vilma Vilarino. The family also owns Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine, a restaurant group with 12 locations, including one in Miami Beach across the street from the Normandy Plaza Hotel property. The owners, through a different corporation, received Design Review Board approval this week for a new, five-story multi-use building on that property
Fast forward a couple of months, Salguero who asked for an engineer’s report on the structural integrity of the building and preliminary plans for repairs “to show that they’re really serious about this” says a preliminary structural report has been provided and is to be followed by a complete engineer’s evaluation that includes structural testing results. She said the core samples were taken this week according to the project engineer and test results were expected to be made available shortly. Meanwhile, the architects are “almost ready to submit repair work drawings.”

Since our first report, Donna Delnick Watler, daughter of the former owners of the Normandy Plaza reached out to RE:MiamiBeach. Her parents, Meyer and Lee Delnick, moved here after running a kosher resort known as Delnick’s Hotel in the summertime in Millis, Massachusetts “similar to the Catskills,” she wrote in an email. They owned a number of properties that they eventually sold but the Normandy Plaza was the last. “They loved that hotel” which they owned and operated during the 1970s and 80s.
“My father built the kitchenettes in most of the rooms for the seasonal renters. It was thriving back in the day.”
In an interview, Watler said, those seasonal renters were elderly vistors from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. She recalled living in the 60-room hotel for about six months in high school. “The rooms were not connected. I have the memory of having my own hotel room!” she laughed. 
The “old fashioned switchboard” that required operators to plug in the lines to connect the rooms is another memory. “My mother would hire all my cousins to run the switchboard,” she said. “Everyone in my family knew how to operate that switchboard or else they couldn’t go to the beach!”
Watler said her mother would cook Thanksgiving dinners and meals for guests during the Jewish holidays in “a huge kitchen downstairs. I remember my mother making chopped liver.” Both of her parents have since passed away.
According to the Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser, Lee and Meyer Delnick sold the property in 1984 for $665,000. It has changed hands a couple of times since with the Vilarino Property Group listed as a purchaser in 2003 for $3.36 million.
“When I saw the picture of the hotel, I was compelled to reach out to you,” she told this reporter.  "It is a personal story to me." She said she last saw the hotel about ten years ago. “It was a dump.”
She recalled one of its claims to fame (or infamy) when serial killer Andrew Cunanan who was on the run after killing Gianni Versace on the steps of his Ocean Drive mansion in 1997 “holed up in the Normandy Plaza” before committing suicide on a houseboat docked along Collins Avenue.
“Honestly, I was sorry that it was boarded up still and that no one bought it and fixed it up like they do in South Beach,” Watler said. “All this is going on in Miami Beach and why not the Normandy Plaza too?"

Seeing what has happened to the Normandy Plaza and the Deauville where she “went to all the shows” is “sad to me,” she said. “Growing up there was such a highlight in my life. Those hotels were really rockin’!” The Deauville, which has been closed since an electrical fire in July 2017, is the subject of a lawsuit by the City which is seeking a receiver for the property and to compel the owners to make the necessary repairs to the historic structure.
Watler, a 1975 graduate of Beach High, lived in Miami Beach “for a long time.” She is now a special needs teacher living in Delray Beach.
Watler still has a lot of memorabilia from the hotel including a key to one of the rooms, original postcards, her parents’ business cards, and photos. She said her mother used to tease her father, an avid photographer, that “no one was going to care about the guests' photos in ten years.”  As the City and the Historic Preservation Board seek documentation on how the property used to look, a lot of people may care about them now.
Old post card and photo courtesy of Rick Kendle

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