Hotel for 1685 Washington Approved

Washington Avenue

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Hotel for 1685 Washington Approved:

5-2 vote underscores challenges of mixing contemporary with historic architecture

After a debate about neighborhood compatibility, the Historic Preservation Board this week gave its approval to a revised application for the proposed hotel at 1685 Washington Avenue. The compatibility of the design, specifically the loss of views to the iconic hotels on Collins Avenue, was the HPB’s biggest concern when it last heard the application.
Preservation architect Arthur Marcus, a consultant to the developer, told Board members, “Views are important in a civic sense” but in the context of the existing zoning in place, the historic buildings are “mainly visible from the public rights of way” with “no requirement for view corridors through the property.” Right now, he said, looking across Washington Avenue, they are “barely visible above the rooftop… you see a little bit of the Delano, National, the Ritz tower” which is “obscured by a palm tree.”
The property’s owners (LLCs controlled by Ronald Finvarb, Richard Finvarb, and Jacques Chahine) plan to demolish the existing Citibank building constructed in 1996. “No matter what would be built on this property [which, by right, could be 80 feet], unfortunately the view would be lost,” he said.
The architect said the developers wanted to ensure that their neighbor, Temple Emanuel at 88 feet to the top of its dome, remain the tallest building in the neighborhood. He noted a “recurring urban pattern, intermittent pattern, of tall buildings throughout this district” and he called out the new Miami Beach Convention Center. “If any building is to have a dramatic influence upon the adjacent historic structures, this is the building.”
Addressing the contemporary design, Marcus said, “Throughout its history, Miami Beach has continually reinvented itself. Whenever contemporary architecture has been introduced alongside our historic districts, there’s often been raised the question of compatibility. Yet the wonder, the true wonder of Miami Beach architecture, is how these architectural styles mesh together, and as they continually evolve, they maintain a level of quality and innovation and become integrated into the historic cityscapes.”
He showed a photo of the Setai and Dilido hotels on Collins Ave and said they were now looked at as being “part of a total ensemble,” though both “raised many concerns about their effects upon the adjacent historic architecture. But looking at this picture now, it looks like a family portrait of Collins Avenue. They all just seem to be part of the total ensemble, and that’s what Miami Beach architecture is. Miami Beach architecture is an ensemble of different forms. These contemporary additions have been incorporated, so to speak, into the family.”
The 407 Lincoln Road office building designed in 1957 “probably looked like a spaceship landed in South Beach as compared to all the two and three-story buildings” when it was first constructed, Marcus said. “This building, I’ve learned to appreciate it over the years. At first it really stood out like a sore thumb to me… the longer I’ve lived in Miami Beach and the longer I looked at it, it’s very innovative and much, much ahead of its time.”
“Who can forget the community debates on the aesthetic of the 1111 Lincoln Road mixed-use garage building?” he asked. “When it was first proposed and constructed at Lincoln and Alton, it was a big, big conversation in the community. A lot of people were unsure about the design… for the life of me I couldn’t get the building. I couldn’t understand it at first, it didn’t look pretty… the longer I lived with it… I have come around.”
“Aesthetics is certainly in the eye of the beholder,” he concluded.
Temple Emmanuel president-elect David Greenberg told the HPB his members support the hotel. “We can’t see any way how we would be negatively impacted” and, in fact, he said, he hoped it would positively impact them. In the last several years, he said, “We have been the victim of anti-semitic vandalism.” The “additional life” that the hotel will bring to the corner, “hopefully that will prevent some of these crimes from occurring,” Greenberg said. And, “Hopefully with the enhanced foot traffic, we’ll be able to serve the community better.”
Jennifer McConny-Gayoso of McG Architecture said, after the first HPB hearing, they reduced the size of the balconies and the number of variances they were requesting down to two, one for an extra three feet on part of the roof for a restaurant and another for balcony encroachments onto 17th Street.
“We pushed the building over as much as we could to the south and redesigned every balcony” on the building’s east side and then on the “north and west, we played with the façade to try to get it to fit” and then reduced the undulation of the balconies. The proposed hotel is 72 feet, though the height allowed on the site is 80 feet, she said. The new design has “pushed the building forward a little and down.” The changes include a courtyard in the center with a four-story vertical garden.
Board member John Stuart commented the area has a “historical context with a propensity for higher buildings.” He noted the design “that I think is of interesting character.”
“I think that it complements the park” across the street at the New World Symphony, Board member Rick Lopez said. “I think that it enhances the identity of the park, enhances the sense of place. The concerns about the views out to the Delano and other hotels, I think are important concerns but as the cover page [of the design drawings] reveals, the view is still preserved, depending on where you’re standing, of course, and I think that’s okay. I think it’s okay to have this building go forward. I think that the encroachments to the setbacks are minor.”
Board member Jack Finglass said, “As a building and a design, I think it’s outstanding. It’s a breath of fresh air.” But as to its compatibility, “Respectfully, I do not agree,” he said. “I think this design is not compatible with the urban pattern of this specific area of Art Deco and MiMo design.”
“I think it’s a terrific looking building,” Board member Scott Needelman said. “I think it will it fit in there.” His only issue was the balcony projections on 17th Street saying the architect “should try to maximize that view corridor as much as possible.”
Counting votes, attorney Michael Larkin said his client would opt to withdraw the variance for the projections on 17th Street to which Needelman replied, “Then you have my vote.”
Board member Nancy Liebman said, “I think it’s a nice looking building. I think it would do very well up in the area around the Fontainebleau or perhaps the Versailles. I do not see any relevance to it here… I think this is excessive. The design is excessive.”
She said she went back and reviewed the guidebook given to members of the HPB. “It’s all about historic preservation. I haven’t heard one word about historic preservation. I’ve just heard how this supposedly, the philosophy is in how it’s keeping with all the rest of the buildings. I don’t see that.”
“What we look at for compatibility is scale.” Referencing the smaller historic Kaskades Hotel to the south, she said, “You can’t even see it [in the renderings]. This is going to totally overpower it. I saw, really, no relationship to anything in this area.”
“Do we want something that is like a big blaring microphone?” she asked. “When I look at this, to me, it’s a big blaring edifice that has no business being in here.”
Stuart responded, “It’s about the context you experience it in… the synagogue is roughly the same height as this building… There’s a context that’s developing here… one of just many contexts but there is a context in which this building fits. It doesn’t fit into every context but there’s no building that fits into every context.” He said this new hotel will fit into the context of Symphony Park across the street. “You will see it from the park,” he said. “That park is the context and it’s not the tallest building in the park by a long shot.” 
Board Chair Stevan Pardo explained that during the discussion he asked the architects on the Board to speak first. “This is clearly a unique project in an important center of the city that has been evolving over the past several years with the Symphony Hall and now the Convention Center. Each building is unique in itself.”
“The lawyer in me says I have to be fair with the applicant and I have to be fair to historic preservation,” he said. “Can I tell them they cannot block the view? The case of Fontainebleau versus Eden Roc says no.”  Regarding compatibility, he said, “I think it does achieve the goal that we are here to try to accomplish.”
The Board voted 5-2 to approve with Liebman and Finglass voting no.

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