Security Continues to be a Problem at Shuttered Deauville

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Security Continues to be a Problem at Shuttered Deauville:

Neighbors say trespassers in building throw bottles, break windows, creating public safety hazard

In its heyday, the Deauville Beach Resort was the place to be for entertainers like Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Judy Garland, and other big names. On February 16, 1964, it was the site of one of music’s most significant events, the Beatles’ performance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Today, it sits abandoned after damage from an electrical fire then Hurricane Irma, mired in a legal battle between the City of Miami Beach and its owners.

Citing “demolition by neglect”, the City filed suit in February seeking an overseer for the property to complete necessary repairs. During an emergency hearing in March after trespassing incidents and two small fires set by what appeared to be trespassers, members of the Meruelo family which owns the hotel agreed to extra security. The City sought the security measures citing the danger to emergency personnel and the surrounding neighborhood.
For a while, things appeared calm but, this week, neighbors took to Facebook to report continued issues of trespassers and unsafe conditions.  
Lisiane Freitas Wagner wrote, “I was on my balcony and heard glass shattering from inside of one of the top units and weird yellow smoke coming out of another area on [the] top floor then some crazy insane screaming followed by another window shattered right afterwards.”
On another occasion, Freitas Wagner wrote, “I was walking my dog and two beer bottles were tossed out of one of the balconies. Luckily nothing happened to us but I hate the feeling of walking on the boardwalk afraid of having one of these people throwing who knows what and get injured.”

A trespasser at the shuttered Deauville hotel. Photo by Lisiane Freitas Wagner

“I don’t know how these people can get in and out of this building since they boarded up the windows, but apparently it seems to be pretty easy, as I always see and hear them when I am walking on the boardwalk or sitting on my balcony,” Freitas Wagner wrote. “This is getting way out of hand.”
Another nearby resident noted, “There hasn’t been security there in months.”
Freitas Wagner said she has called police on many occasions. Miami Beach Police Department spokesman Officer Ernesto Rodriguez confirmed there have been five calls for suspicious persons on the property between June 14 and July 16 but, in each case, “the officer decided the incident or call did not warrant a report.”
Meanwhile, Freitas Wagner heard back from MBPD Neighborhood Resource Officer Julio Blanco who wrote in an email that he understands “how frustrated the neighboring building residents are.”
Blanco explained the difficulty Police have with keeping the building secure. “The Police Department cleared the building and placed signs prohibiting trespassing months ago. It was not a simple task and it took over 20 Police Officers and 4.5 hours to get this done. The place is condemned, dangerous inside, has no power and [is] extremely large.”
“I know that from time to time, homeless and juveniles break in and squat there. Unfortunately, this is PRIVATE property. That means we cannot remove someone without owner approval,” Blanco wrote. “As such, we do not enter that building UNLESS called upon. We cannot go in without authority and if we do it would be a limited cursory check of the exterior and front lobby. We cannot fully search that facility with the 6 Officers we have in this district.”
“Like I said, it takes a team of 20 (with K9 dogs) and 4.5 hours to fully search that location. We simply don’t have the resources to fully secure that property,” he reiterated. Blanco said he would pass along concerns to the area Captain and would file a report with the Code Compliance Department.
The City hasn’t been able to make much progress legally either. The case remains tied up in Court and, at a recent City Commission meeting, the difficulty in preventing the condition of “demolition by neglect” was raised. 
During a discussion about the potential demolition of another abandoned building, the old Normandy Plaza Hotel, Commissioner Micky Steinberg said, “Demolition by neglect is one of the worst things we can face as a city. We have the Deauville that we’re going to have to be worried about. Is that the direction that’s going to be headed in? These are iconic and, especially in the North Beach area, very important activations and vibrancies when they’re open and right now, with them not being functional, they’re adding to blight in an area that really depends on those particular establishments … is there a loophole that we need to close?"
Commissioner Ricky Arriola said he was mulling ideas to “create some disincentives for this happen. It’s gotta sting when this happens. Not only are we losing historic buildings but it’s blight on our neighborhood.”
He’s considering proposals for penalties but also perhaps taking away FAR (Floor Area Ratio or density) allowed for a property to “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 [then] they can come back with a much more profitable project long term,” Arriola said. “In the interim, we go a decade or more having an unsightly building, blight on the neighborhood, and we lose beautiful buildings. So, one of the things I’m going to toy with bringing back for discussion in September is take away 50% of the FAR that if this were to happen, really make it sting.”
Mayor Dan Gelber, noting he’s “gotten very involved in the Deauville with the Legal Department,” said he agreed with Arriola that there needed to be “something that allows us to take measures. I’m not sure eliminating FAR is going to be that easy but there may be escalating fines that, at some point, create an ability to lien the property at a level that might actually allow us to do something more [to take] control of the property.” 
“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,” Gelber said. “Because it just isn’t right especially with some of these properties that are historic.” He asked Arriola to work with the City’s Legal Department on legislation to bring back to the Commission.
“Some of these buildings have been held so long by owners or investors that their basis in the building is so low that it’s really cheaper for them to let it be neglected, demolish it, and then come back with a brand-new project,” Arriola said. “It’s not like they’re losing money by just doing nothing with it. In some cases, they lose money by trying to do something to it. So, we’ve got to create some disincentives that [keep] these situations from happening.”
City Building Official Ana Salguero said her research turned up a solution implemented in the Midwest following the last downturn – a tax that increased the longer your building was vacant. “Those are the kind of ideas that maybe we need to look at to really disincentivize this,” she said.
The Deauville, built in 1957, was designed by Melvin Grossman. According to the Miami-Dade County property appraiser, the Meruelo’s paid $4 million for the property at 6701 Collins Avenue in 2004. The 2019 land value is assessed at $82,584,000 with the structure valued at $100,000.
Attorneys for the Deauville did not respond to a request for comment about the latest security issues at the property. Melissa Berthier, a City spokeswoman, said, “The matter… remains in litigation and we have no further comment at this time.”
Meanwhile, the City is involved in another legal battle with Richard and Maria Meruelo after Code Enforcement officers removed artwork attached to a wall surrounding their house which they said violated City code. Richard is one of three family members listed as a principal of Deauville Associates, LLC which owns the Deauville Hotel. Richard and Maria are appealing the order to remove the artwork. That case is also pending.


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