Could Hotels be Coming to Lincoln Road?

Lincoln Road

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Could Hotels be Coming to Lincoln Road?:

Land Use Committee considers incentives for boutique hotel uses

The owner of the Sterling Building on Lincoln Road, home to Books and Books, wants to build an addition that would accommodate hotel rooms and connect Lincoln Road to Lincoln Lane to the north. In order to make the project economically feasible, he wants Miami Beach to eliminate its parking requirements for new hotel units within attached additions to contributing historic buildings on Lincoln Road. The concept is something the City’s Planning staff and the Commission’s Land Use Committee support examining further.
Miami Beach Planning Director Tom Mooney told Committee members this past week, “What we’ve seen is that oftentimes [the parking requirements] can be an impediment because on Lincoln Road there’s no way to physically provide it on the building and there’s copious number of parking garages within the vicinity so then what the property’s owner is faced with is ‘Do I want to spend $40,000 a space on the impact fee” for not having parking. “More often than not, they just say ‘No, we’re not going to do the hotel,’” Mooney said.
“The proposal is for the maximum building height to be increased for properties fronting on Lincoln Road with a minimum of 100 hotel units,” he added. “This increase in height would be needed to accommodate hotels.” With a 75-foot setback requirement for lots fronting Lincoln Road, Mooney said, the height “won’t have a negative impact on the road.” The draft ordinance also includes setbacks of 80 feet for lots fronting 17th Street and 100 feet for the City Center Area “bounded by Drexel Avenue, 16th Street, Collins Avenue and the south property line of those lots fronting on the south side of Lincoln Road.”
Sponsor Commissioner Ricky Arriola said, “I thought this project, in particular, was pretty cool looking.” Having just approved a 200 sq. ft. minimum hotel unit size proposed for the Collins Park neighborhood, Arriola said he was supportive of a similar reduction for Lincoln Road.
The issue, Arriola said, is “What do we want to see on Lincoln Road? Do we want to see hotels or not? What’s the pros and what are the cons?” He also asked what the public benefit might be that property owners would contribute back to the community for being allowing to build hotels.
“The concept of having hotels on Lincoln Road is okay with me,” Arriola said. “I think it’s a mechanism for potentially continuing to preserve the historic buildings there and protecting them and continuing to invest in them. I think it’s a way to possibly alter a lot of the big box retailers that are popping up on Lincoln Road, further activating Lincoln Road day and night, a way of supporting our local merchants.”
He wondered, “If we were to allow hotels on Lincoln Road, could we ask for some of the public benefits we’ve all been talking about such as bringing back mom and pops, smaller retailers and that kind of thing?”
Mickey Marrero, attorney for the Sterling Building’s owners, said, “We do think it’s a very exciting item that could really spur some nice economic development on Lincoln Road and bring in some of the type of uses that I think you all are hopefully looking for.”

Marrero said this idea has been kicking around for a while but it proved too expensive previously given the larger room size requirements and the parking impact fee that would need to be paid in lieu of providing on-site parking.
The owner brought the plan back “thinking Lincoln Road needs an injection of something new and exciting,” Marrero told the Committee. 
Given the available parking garages in the area and the increased use of ride sharing services, he said, the elimination of parking makes sense. He emphasized the owner is “not planning to touch or demolish in any way” the “contributing” building. 
“You also just need a little more height to get those hundred units to make the project work,” Marrero said. “As to your mom and pops, as the market has gone up this is a way to spur economic development to get a building redeveloped in a way that it can be restored and kept with its contributing elements without having to bring in some of the more big box type of uses that have been a concern to some of the businesses. This is a way to preserve what’s there.”
“Books and Books are tenants,” he said. “We’ve spoken to them. They’re excited about the project.” The owner is working with them “to keep them in the building during construction and certainly afterward.”
Architect Kobi Karp said, historically Lincoln Road has had residences and hotels. He showed some initial concept drawings for the project which is located at 925 Lincoln Road. He pointed out the courtyard which leads into Books and Books and includes portions of the sidewalk café Aura. The thought is to connect the ground level to Lincoln Lane in the back to bring more pedestrian traffic in. Lincoln Road, he said, would be “the public amenity area of this hotel.”
Karp said the design would “maintain and preserve and restore the building and just add on the back. That’s the concept we’ve been playing with so far.”
Arriola said, “This particular project I like... if this is going to start, potentially, a trend where people want to build some small scale boutique hotels, I think the concept works. It activates Lincoln Road even further and I think long-term puts it in a really strong position so we compete with other malls in town but I don’t want to miss the opportunity to really think about it at a macro level whether it’s public benefits and/or using the opportunity to further protect these buildings for the long term, because we are seeing more and more big boxes wanting to come to Lincoln Road. The Lincoln Road BID [association of property owners] is against it. I think residents are against it. And maybe the trade off to building owners who for economic reasons find big box retailers to be a good solution, maybe boutique hotels is a better solution where it’s a win-win for everybody.”
“We have struggled in the past to try to activate the second floors of some of these buildings for restaurant uses and things like that, which to me makes a lot of sense economically, for folks that go to Lincoln Road but it just hasn’t happened,” Arriola said. “There’s no economic incentive and I’m wondering if whether as part of allowing potential small-scale boutique hotels, we can actually activate those second story, third story establishments and solve the quandary we’ve been having which is nobody can afford to open on Lincoln Road anymore. If you start activating the second floor maybe the mom and pop restaurants can come back.”
Mooney told the Committee they could “consider making that part of the conditions that there be some form of activation at the second level for specific types of uses.”
“It gives residents and tourists a reason to go back to Lincoln Road which is, long term, what we want which is the activation of Lincoln Road.” Arriola said. “If all we have is big box there and national chains, it gets boring. You go to Bayside and get the same experience but if we can incentivize mom and pops and restaurants to open on Lincoln Road – and maybe this is a mechanism to do that – I’m very interested in seeing where this goes.”
Preservation Activist Nancy Liebman objected. “When we have a problem in a place, it seems the first thing that we grab onto is we have to raise the height,” she said. “On Lincoln Road it seems like the big boxes got out of control before anybody noticed… I think there’s got to be a lot of thought about the historic buildings. That’s the one street that has not been usurped by some big garage or some other awful thing and it’s time that we get it under control before we go out and tell people we’re doing this and we’re getting rid of big box stores.”
She urged “a bigger thought plan about Lincoln Road” beyond just the Sterling Building proposal. “After all, aren’t we still waiting to beautify that road?” she asked referring to the Lincoln Road Master Plan.

“I can’t imagine building hotels,” Liebman said. “It’s going to be the biggest mess you ever saw and we will have lost our Lincoln Road forever. The big box stores will go. I don’t think anybody really enjoys shopping in them. And if something replaces them that’s better… let’s not rush with this one.”
“As a standalone this looks cool,” Arriola said of the Sterling Building concept. “It’s one little boutique hotel. No harm, no foul. What we’re hearing from the development community, at least this building owner, is in the past they haven’t done this because economically because of our code it didn’t make sense. So, they’re approaching us saying if we were to change our code there would be an economic incentive to do this. So, that’s where the give and take and the negotiations and the public benefit start coming in.”
Giving owners an alternative to filling their spaces with big box stores appeals to him, Arriola said. “I want to entertain it. I don’t want to kill it… this idea of potentially having some boutique hotels along Lincoln Road, my gut tells me and intellectually tells me there’s some really good ideas to support something like this. I do want to do it thoughtfully. I don’t want to rush into it but I’m very inclined to supporting this.”
“I think a boutique hotel with all that brings with it, not just guests but the small cafés and the small retailers that typically are there to service the guests is a good thing for Lincoln Road,” he said.
Lyle Stern, President of Koniver Stern, a retail leasing and consulting company said he hadn’t seen the specific project plans but he liked the idea. “I think it’s fantastic. I think part of the issue that we’re going to face – and you nailed it – as retail morphs, as the office market morphs, we’ll have lots of spaces that are empty that can be reprogrammed and revitalized and reused and the opportunity to convert your older office space to a boutique hotel, and creating the zoning code that does that, is no different than the approach we took under the Commission’s direction on Washington Avenue which is to accelerate or incentivize Washington Avenue hotel development with a provision that could sunset if it wasn’t working out properly.”
The approach he said “is an appropriate use for Lincoln Road because it creates a much wider envelope which we can all play in and shift the uses away from larger square footage retailers,” Stern said. “As the world continues to evolve for online retail, the larger stores, those 25-30-15-18,000 sq. ft. stores are becoming rarer dinosaurs, so it would be great for us to really start thinking through how to incentivize the development and how to create more pedestrian activity between the Convention Center, the New World Symphony and Lincoln Road. So, at first blush, I think it’s fantastic. I’m glad that you are embracing it.”
Commissioner Joy Malakoff said she liked the concept for the Sterling Building and hotel uses on the north side of Lincoln Road. “I think the Sterling Building and what you’re planning makes a lot of sense. I have a problem with, perhaps, doing hotels on the south side of Lincoln Road. The north side, you’re facing a lane and commercial buildings and City Hall, a garage, etc. On the south side, I believe there are multi-family buildings and garden apartments” which she said could pose a problem.
Committee Chair, Commissioner John Alemán, agreed. “I think you need to study the length of the street, all sides, and recommend where this applies,” she said to Mooney.
“Lincoln Road was spared from the mayhem of Spring Break and partly that’s because there’s no hotels there, I think, so I want to make sure that as we consider this we consider all of the implications and that we’re thoughtful about that,” Alemán said. “I’d like to understand how many hotels could come to fruition as a result of what you recommend, how many rooms, how many sites.”
“I do think we need to think about the impact on hotel inventory,” she added. “We have all of those boutique hotels on Collins in South Beach. What are the implications, just the economic implications… When you look at Lincoln Road alone it makes sense to me and to bring visitors and have them staying right on the road and being able to dine there and shop there. It’s very beautiful and we’re about to improve it. It all makes sense to me from a Lincoln Road standpoint. I just want to make sure we’re careful and considerate about the implications for the city overall.”
“I do really like the idea about the retail incentive and how do we try to encourage an envelope for boutique retail whatever that looks like,” she said.
Mooney told the Committee they might want to consider “a minimum amenity space requirement so that these don’t become flophouses, they really become truly a boutique hotel. I don’t think you necessarily need bigger units for that but the minimum amenity space will oftentimes dictate the difference between a Motel 6 and something a lot nicer.”
The Committee will further review the ordinance at its May 22 meeting after staff takes another cut at it.
“I want to be thoughtful,” Arriola said. “We don’t want to make a mistake… Go slow, look at this as a north side of Lincoln Road [opportunity], see how this goes before we consider doing this on the south side.”
Malakoff also suggested being mindful of Soundscape Park. “We have to be very careful because sound does travel.” She expressed concern with any outdoor rooftop activity or music interfering with audiences trying to listen to the popular Wallcasts.
Alemán also noted the Miami Beach Community Church located at Drexel and Lincoln.  “Be thoughtful and look at everything that’s out there,” she told Mooney.
The initial draft ordinance can be found here.


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