Can hotels bring back the Lincoln Road vibe?

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Can hotels bring back the Lincoln Road vibe?:

Preservation board endorses hotel incentives with spaces for arts and culture

A proposal to incentivize hotel development on Lincoln Road cleared another hurdle with the endorsement of the Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board. Two property owners initiated the draft ordinance that would eliminate parking requirements for hotels on Lincoln Road between Lenox and Pennsylvania Avenues and increase the allowable height for new hotel additions on the north side from 50 to 75 feet. Allowable height on the south side would remain at 50 feet. In exchange, property owners would contribute space for arts and cultural activities or pay a fee into an arts and culture fund.
Mickey Marrero, attorney for Sam Herzberg who owns the Sterling Building at 927 Lincoln Road, said hotel uses are permitted on Lincoln Road but the idea “hasn’t really been looked at seriously.” With the new incentives, hotel projects become more economically viable. His client already has renderings in process to build a hotel structure on top of the rear portion of his building located behind a courtyard. The Sterling is home to Books and Books which is nestled in the back corner of the courtyard. If the ordinance is approved, Marrero told the HPB members he expected to be back before them in “three to four months” with a project for their consideration. 
Mel Schlesser, owner of the Lincoln Center at 630 Lincoln Road, also is considering a hotel operation, though his plans are not as far along. In his case, his building did operate as a hotel until it was renovated and converted to office use in the early 2000s. Both Herzberg and Schlesser have owned their properties for long periods of time. Both proposals would retain the existing contributing structures.
The height increase is proposed for the north side because it abuts a commercial area with nearby parking garages and lots. To the south, the street sits adjacent to residential properties. The proposal would also change the minimum hotel unit size to 200 sq. ft. on the north and a minimum average of 250 sq. ft. on the south. 
When the concept was discussed at a recent City Commission meeting,  Commissioners insisted on a public benefit of arts and cultural spaces to be provided by property owners who took advantage of the incentives. The latest draft of the ordinance includes the option for spaces to be offered to non-profits or local artists on the ground floor of the building or paying a fee in lieu of providing the space.

In addition to that component, Monika Entin, Schlesser’s attorney pointed out “If you’re going to be availing yourself of this amendment, the improvements have to be to the entire alley behind you, not to the portion directly behind your building but from street end to street end so now there is an improvement that is for the benefit of the residents of the neighborhood and of the City.”

Daniel Ciraldo, Executive Director of the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL) said, “This is pretty exciting.” He recalled the early vibrancy of Lincoln Road when the Art Center and the Miami City Ballet first started there and you could see “ballerinas in the windows.” 
“Personally, I look at this as a really positive thing. I don’t know why there’s so much anger over it,” he said. “In exchange for this they will provide space for not-for-profit entities… I look at this as a major, major thing that could become a model for other streets in the United States. It’s like Lincoln Road closing to cars many, many years ago became a model for other places.”
Ciraldo objected to the size definition of the donated space which is “equal to one half the size of the smallest hotel unit.” With the minimum hotel room size at 200 sq. ft., Ciraldo said, “That would be 10x10, 100 sq. ft... I don’t think that’s going to cut it… I don’t know if I could even lay down in that.”
“Height is always a concern in Miami Beach,” Ciraldo added, “but if you go over to the City of Miami, they literally sell extra floors in high rises and additional height for pennies on the dollar. We in Miami Beach have this record of public benefit, of pushing for better outcomes for the community… The Commission has said they want there to be a real public benefit so MDPL supports this tenancy idea of artists and non-profits coming to Lincoln Road.”
“The size is something that has to be worked on,” he reiterated of the public benefit spaces before imploring, “Please keep an open mind and see this as a possible positive thing to really bring back what is lacking now on Lincoln Road, the arts and culture.”
HPB Chair Stevan Pardo said the size “seems rather miniscule given the benefits” to the property owners. He proposed 500 sq. ft. “It should be significant enough” that it could house a small arts studio with a visible public presence. “You should be able to see it and embrace it and be able to go inside and look at the artwork,” Pardo said. “I don’t how you could do that with 110 sq. ft."
Entin said, “This was a starting point… We are happy to go back to the drawing board… and figure out what is an acceptable area for the public benefit.” 
“I like this idea,” HPB member Kirk Paskal said. “I like the idea of trying this… I’m not in the thick of this, of what the right balance is to bring about the positive change to bring the reinvestment and vibrancy we want to see on Lincoln Road [but] I hope this is a part of it.”
Paskal did express concern that there might be “a slew of applications and suddenly we see Lincoln Road go from primarily one- and two-story buildings to five- and seven-story buildings and what that’s going to look like?”
When Planning Staff member Michael Belush said five stories is allowed on Lincoln Road now, Paskal responded, “It’s not the code or the height I’m questioning, it’s that now you have the incentive to build the five- and seven-stories whereas the real commercial activation previously was mostly limited to the first level.” He asked City Design and Preservation Manager Debbie Tackett if she expected a large number of property owners would want to take advantage of incentives to build hotels.
“It’s really market driven,” she said. “We can probably compare this to what you saw with the incentives on Washington [Avenue]… similar incentives in terms of parking requirements, additional height and unit size. We did see a significant uptick in new construction projects, additions to contributing buildings that were for hotels. Is it the entire stretch of Washington that we’ve seen? No. And now that has slightly tapered off. We have a couple small projects and some large ones going on. So, I do think the incentives spur an uptick in development but, you know, in terms of seeing the entire block move forward with this, I don’t see that happening.”
Board member Nancy Liebman said of the Lincoln Road property owners, “They need to get their act together on that road and start putting in things that people are interested in and I hope it’s not just bars.”
Tackett pointed to changes in the retail environment. “In terms of retail stores, it’s really a drastic change that I’ve seen in terms of stores that are willing to move in.”
HPB member John Stuart said, “Lincoln Road has a history of diverse entertainments from the time there were polo grounds there to the first hotel to the religious establishment… I think that now there’s a corrective that’s happening on Lincoln Road with these hotels where they’re trying to diversify again.” At one point, he said, there was a Cadillac dealer on the street.
Tackett also remembered when the Ballet and a “couple of cool coffee shops” were located on Lincoln Road. “I like the idea of culture and art being brought back into the ground floors,” she said. “I think for the long-term success we have to start thinking about different uses other than traditional retail.”
“Why does everyone think the hotels squeezed behind the historic buildings is going to bring back the world?” Liebman lamented.
“I think it will bring more people there,” Tackett said, “and usually when you’re vacationing in a hotel you’re looking for a close place to eat.”
Tim Schmand, Executive Director of the Lincoln Road Business Improvement District (BID) agreed the challenges to brick and mortar retail are impacting the street as well as competition from areas such as Wynwood, the Design District, Brickell, and Coconut Grove. 
“We’re still doing about 11 million people annually on Lincoln Road and we are not resting on those numbers,” Schmand said. “The long-term vision of the Board of Directors of the Lincoln Road BID is to make Lincoln Road an arts and cultural center and we’re working towards that direction.” He said the BID is now planning a Botero exhibition later this year that includes putting the artist’s monumental sculptures “from one end of Lincoln Road to the other... to bring back the art vibe on Lincoln Road.”
Noting the BID supported the incentives, he said, the hotels will add to “the critical mass of people wandering Lincoln Road.”
Board members decided to support the concept but recommended a greater public benefit, both larger spaces and a higher “in lieu of” fee which is set at $2,500 in the draft ordinance. They also suggested an analysis of other properties that could be candidates for hotel additions to have a more holistic view.
The ordinance will be before the Planning Board on July 23. With the August recess, the soonest it will be heard by the City Commission is September.

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