Commission to consider pedestrian bridge between Essex House and Clevelander

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Commission to consider pedestrian bridge between Essex House and Clevelander:

Preservation Board approved the concept at its October meeting

The owners of the Essex House and Clevelander Hotels received Historic Preservation Board approval for their proposal to renovate the Essex House and build a pedestrian bridge connecting it with the Clevelander behind it. Now it’s on to the Miami Beach City Commission which will discuss granting the aerial rights over the Ocean Court Alley to allow the bridge to be built.
Jesta Group purchased both hotels last November. Their plan for a multi-million dollar renovation of the Essex House annex building includes preserving the three-story front wing and adding a floor to the two-story center wing while demolishing the rear wing and building a new four-story addition. The plan also includes elevating "a good portion" of the courtyard between the main Essex House building and the annex for resiliency purposes. 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. The main Essex House building will remain as is. 

Originally, the owners proposed adding a basement level for back-of-house uses in order to make room for more hotel rooms, but attorney Alex Tachmes said “due to cost and other factors” that part of the proposal was scrapped. Tachmes said now that the basement is no longer part of the plan, the middle portion of the annex building will be “substantially preserved, particularly the south façade which is significant.”
The pedestrian bridge will connect from the roof deck of the new Essex House addition to an open terrace at the Clevelander and will be set back approximately  100 feet from 10th Street. It has about 36 feet of clearance underneath to not interfere with utilities and deliveries.
At their meeting this week, Commissioners will consider granting the aerial rights for the bridge in exchange for the owners’ offer of $240,000. An appraisal of the air rights pegged them at $135,000 but at the September meeting of the Commission’s Finance and Citywide Projects 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 The Betsy in public benefits for similar connector bridges. 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. 
According to a memo from City Manager Jimmy Morales accompanying the item, the owners are offering $240,000 to be paid in three installments of $80,000 each upon application for a building permit, upon issuance of a building permit, and upon issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy for the pedestrian bridge though they may elect to provide in-kind improvements to the surrounding area subject to the review and approval of the Department of Public works prior to making the first installment payment. Those in-kind improvements cannot exceed $105,000 – the difference between the actual value of the easement rights and the total $240,000 agreed to. In the event of an in-kind contribution, the $135,000 value will be paid in the three installments as detailed above.
“In view of the nature and location of the proposed easement (which only benefits the Applicant, as the owner of the two hotels), the Administration recommends the waiver of the competitive bidding requirement [for the air rights] as being in the public interest,” according to Morales’ memo. 
This is the first reading of the resolution. If passed, it will come back for second and final reading on October 30. 
Agenda item including Morales’ memo can be found here.

Updated October 31, 2019: Commissioners voted on second reading to grant the air rights over the Ocean Court alley for $240,000. They removed the option for any in-kind contribution, instead voting for an all cash payment.



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