Additional Rooms for Essex House Hotel, Connecting Bridge to Clevelander Proposed

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Additional Rooms for Essex House Hotel, Connecting Bridge to Clevelander Proposed:

Historic Preservation Board will hear application this week

UPDATE October 7, 2019: After this article was published, attorney Alex Tachmes reached out to let us know that "Due to cost and other factors, we are not constructing a new basement at Essex. Because the basement element is not proceeding, we can significantly reduce the amount of demolition proposed for the middle 1/3 of the Annex south façade. We have so notified Staff and the Board."

The owners of the Clevelander and Essex House want to add additional hotel rooms and a pedestrian bridge over the Ocean Court alley connecting the two hotels. To do that requires a significant amount of demolition and reconstruction, a request that will be heard this week by the Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board. 
The Essex House which occupies two lots on the northeast corner of Collins Avenue and 10th Street is a three-story Art Deco building designed by Henry Hohauser in 1938 in the Streamline Moderne style. The annex to the north was built in 1937.
According to Commercial Real Estate News, Jesta Group and Minorca Holdings, both headquartered in Montreal, purchased the Clevelander and adjacent Essex House in November 2018. The price for the Clevelander was tagged at $66 million while $8.15 million was the reported sale price for the Essex House and a food and beverage concession, the Clevelander, at Marlins Park.

The owners want to preserve the three-story front wing of the annex building including the facade facing Collins Avenue but demolish the two-story center and rear wings in order replace them with a new 5,000 sq ft basement, a three-story wing with a rooftop pool in the center, and a four-story addition in the rear. “[T]he existing courtyard between the main Essex House building and the annex will be elevated and improved,” according to the application. In addition, the first floor interior elevation of the front wing of the annex building that is to be maintained and restored will be raised six feet.
Attorney Alex Tachmes noted in the letter of intent for the project, “The rooftop pool deck will be passive only and will not operate as a food and beverage venue open to the public or have entertainment uses.”
“The primary reason for the project is to better program existing above-grade square footage for hotel rooms rather than back-of-house uses, which will be shifted to the new basement,” Tachmes wrote. “By adding a modest addition and rooftop pool deck, the Applicant is also able to increase the hotel room count and add amenities to be competitive with other area hotels. The project will also generally upgrade, refresh and renovate the annex building and property.”
Architect Todd Tragash of STA Architectural Group “has extensive experience restoring historic properties in Miami Beach and has designed a project that is consistent with the Certificate of Appropriateness criteria… and that meets the goals of both preservation and updating the structure with appropriate improvements,” Tachmes wrote.
Comparing the project to two others that involved east to west expansion and connections over Ocean Court – The Betsy and The Tides – Tachmes said the owners want to construct an open air pedestrian bridge “to connect the Essex with the Clevelander Hotel in order to improve efficiency, circulation and many other operational benefits.” 
The City Commission will need to approve an easement for the air rights but the HPB must review the bridge's design. At the September meeting of the Commission’s Finance and Citywide Projects Committee, Tachmes said an appraisal of the air rights came in at $135,000. Committee members sought additional money to compensate for the added value of the bridge to the property owners and suggested a number between the $135,000 appraisal and the $250,000 invested by the Tides and Betsy in public benefits. The Tides created a green alley while the Betsy transformed the alley next to its hotel into a lighted pedestrian walkway with artistic architectural elements and a restaurant. The item will be discussed at the October 16 Commission meeting. [Story continues after photo.]
The Betsy orb which contains the pedestrian bridge over Ocean Court

While City Planning staff noted they are generally supportive of the plans to elevate the courtyard and interior first floor of the annex to adapt for sea level rise, they recommend one area of the courtyard remain at its current elevation in order to retain an original balconette that they call “one of the most significant architectural elements of the Hohauser design" rather than reconstruct it.
The amount of demolition necessary to construct the basement also raised concerns for the Planning staff. In their memo to the Preservation Board, they indicate they met with the project architect to discuss ideas for future adaptation of the basement including its potential to provide water management solutions such as storm water retention and water collection and reuse.
“Staff could support the substantial demolition required to create the basement area if the basement were designed in a manner that includes both immediate and long term solutions for onsite water management,” according to the memo. “Consequently, staff recommends that the scope of demolition be approved only if the applicant agrees to design and construct a water management system within at least 25% of the currently proposed basement area… Staff would further recommend that the remainder of the basement be designed in a manner which can easily be converted to expand the water management capacity in the future.”
Item details here
Renderings: STA Architectural Group

The Essex House main building (right) on Collins Avenue and the annex which will be branded The Clevelander


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