Convention Center Hotel Design Back in April

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Convention Center Hotel Design Back in April:

Design Review Board generally gives it a warm reception

The Design Review Board (DRB) was generally positive on the design for the proposed Convention Center hotel but asked for some further articulation on the more understated upper levels of the building. Meanwhile, to avoid a legal challenge to the process, attorneys for the developer asked for the item to be continued until April pending the City Commission’s final vote this week on changes in setbacks and parking requirements in the Convention Center District.
Architect Bernardo Fort-Bescia of Arquitectonica told the Board the 15 story, 185-foot tall building was intentionally designed to be minimalist, “not calling attention to itself” by giving a “more neutral, simple, clean, minimalist expression.”  With the exception of the corners and the lower level of the façade, he said he was “trying to do a more quiet building."
“Simplicity was what was the virtue of the project. The Convention Center is a much more powerful expression, very sculptural.” The hotel, he said, was “taking a back seat, particularly the tower.”
The developers and architect thought “it was better to make the tower a little more quiet and not trying to present itself in any way that was competing with the Convention Center or its surroundings,” he said. 
Developer David Martin noted one new feature, the incorporation of keystones from the Henry Hohauser designed building currently on a portion of the site. Now utilized as City offices, the building will be demolished. Following conversations with the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL), Martin said a plaque honoring the Hohauser building and providing some history of it will be installed along with the keystones in the welcome center on the ground floor of the hotel on 17th Street in the approximate location of the Hohauser building.
Henry Hohauser-designed building on the site of the proposed Convention Center hotel

David Harleston, who lives on Washington Avenue directly across from the Convention Center, expressed concerns about residents living through even more construction. “I am one of hundreds of residents who have been adversely impacted over the last four years by a construction process that has been profoundly damaging to the quality of our lives,” told the Board. “We believe in development. We believe in a more vibrant and vital Miami Beach that can, in fact, attract important conventions and visitors from around the world and can improve our own coffers. But we also believe in the fundamental quality of life that we all came to Miami Beach for. A quality of life in which we’re not awakened at 5 in the morning by jackhammers. A quality of life in which we are not, for the better part of a year, denied access to the roads in and around our building. A quality of life that does not leave filth and soot and silt and various other things on our patios, our cars, and our beings. So, having had the really negative experience of construction around the Convention Center rehab, we are especially sensitive and especially concerned about the manner in which the construction of the hotel is going to be administered.”
In addition to a required traffic management plan, Harleston asked the Board to consider requiring a construction plan to address hours of construction, street closures, and “dirt expectations.”
Martin told the Board construction will take approximately three years. Over the next year, his team will work on architectural, engineering, and permitting plans with a goal of starting vertical construction of the hotel next March. The hotel construction is expected to last two years with the shell of the building, “typically the most impactful” according to Martin, taking about 15 months to construct.
He said there would be an “extensive amount of coordination” with City agencies relative to the construction and he emphasized the developers would be “adhering to all noise ordinances of the City of Miami Beach.”
“The goal is to work closely with the City and the community, coordinate and understand what the issues are and plan for,” Martin said.
The developers have requested early access to site, Martin noted, for demolition, utility and infrastructure work which could begin over the next 60 to 90 days. That work will take about 8 to 9 months, though he said this phase would be less intrusive.
“Overall three years but very light construction that’s going to be happening over the next year,” Martin said. “The goal is to accelerate that… outside date is three years total.”
Regarding traffic management, he said the plan is to minimize the impact on Washington Avenue and to use Convention Center Drive and 17th Street for construction vehicles.
“There is going to be an impact,” he said but “the goal is to work to minimize impact.” Martin said construction would be coordinated with the Convention Center management and there would be no construction activity during tier one events such as Art Basel.
“We’re going to be coordinating with the City to make sure we try to minimize as much as possible but at the same time try to deliver this construction and deliver this building as quickly as possible, so it’s really a delicate balance,” Martin added.
No hotel flag has been announced yet but Martin said there are ongoing “intense conversations with a specific flag.” Noting several are interested, he said he expected to finalize a hotel management agreement with one flag over the next 60 to 90 days. 
Meanwhile, as part of the process to clear the site for construction, some of the mature trees on the property will find other homes. According to the City’s Convention Center Project Manager Maria Hernandez, they include oak and other shade trees which will go “either to Convention Center Park if the timing works or to other locations within the City where trees have been lost due to Hurricane Irma.” Those trees are “a little more mature than what you typically buy from a nursery,” she told the DRB. , in the old parking lot across from the Convention Center is expected to be completed by the end of this year. 

To avoid litigation over the design review process, Attorney Michael Larkin asked for a continuance to the April DRB meeting after attorney Kent Harrison Robbins raised objections to the application being considered prior to the City Commission’s second vote on ordinances to change allowable setbacks and parking requirements for the Convention Center hotel site.
To see the renderings, see our earlier story .

Rendering: Arquitectonica

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