Owner of the raleigh wants to build 200 ft tower on the ocean

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Owner of the raleigh wants to build 200 ft tower on the ocean:

Preservation board endorses amendment to allow height but it’s not a done deal

UPDATE: July 31, 2019, Commissioners approved the height allowance on second and final reading.

Michael Shvo, the new owner of the Raleigh Hotel, has the two neighboring historic properties under contract but he’ll only close on them if Miami Beach City Commissioners approve an amendment to the City’s land development regulations that would allow him to build a new tower on the ocean. The Planning Board already endorsed the draft amendment that would increase the maximum allowable height for ground floor additions from 50 feet to 200 feet for oceanfront properties between 16th and 21st Streets .
This past week the Historic Preservation Board (HPB) added its favorable recommendation with the understanding that any final design and height would have to be approved by them. The initial reactions indicated it’s far from a done deal.
Alfredo Gonzalez, Shvo’s attorney, told the HPB the five-block area now has a range of heights from the Surfcomber at 35 feet to the Setai residential condo building at almost 400 feet.
Shvo purchased the Raleigh from Tommy Hilfiger in February of this year. The building was already under construction and while concrete restoration continues, what ultimately happens to the building is in flux as Shvo puts his own plans together. Concerns were raised in the spring about the lack of protection for the building with the upcoming hurricane season. Those issues have now been resolved.
If he were to only own the Raleigh, Shvo told the HPB, he would convert it to private residences but, if he’s able to build a new tower on the ocean, he will complete the purchase of the neighboring Richmond and South Seas Hotels and maintain all three L. Murray Dixon-designed structures as hotels and restore them to their original designs by removing some later additions. The new tower would be centered behind the Richmond and South Seas.
Currently, the South Seas is approved for an 85-foot building that would be constructed between the building fronting Collins Avenue and an 8-story building in the rear creating what Gonzalez called “a long narrow shoe box.” The Richmond could be developed independently in a similar fashion. In addition, there could potentially be four large pavilions behind all three properties along the beachwalk “blocking views into the properties,” Gonzalez said. 
Gonzalez noted the RM-3 Zoning District which runs from 16th to 72nd Streets along the ocean allows the additional height except for the five blocks included in the text amendment. If approved, taller buildings would only be allowed on lots greater than 115,000 sq ft and would have to be set back 100 feet from the front of the property, 75 feet from the street property line, and 100 feet from the rear ocean property line. As of now, the only sites that would be eligible for the extra height are these three properties if aggregated and the Shore Club, though other properties could be aggregated in the future to take advantage of it.
The developer is not seeking additional FAR (Floor Area Ratio or density), rather he is seeking to move the FAR from the Richmond and South Seas to create the taller tower.  The Raleigh and the South Seas are 85 feet tall while the Richmond is 75 feet in height.
Michael Belush, Planning Staff member, explained the old hotels sit on “on lots with buildings with very minimal setbacks… So if you’re staying in these hotels with a five-foot setback you really have no view or latent air out of the window along the side so this proposal, by adding the lots together, you can increase the setbacks from the neighboring properties to provide more light and air and more desirable rooms.”
“The concept here is that by providing more desirable rooms and better accommodations, it’s going to be for the benefit of the building itself and for the long-term viability of those structures” which would then be fully restored, Belush said
Board member Nancy Liebman wasn’t convinced. “It’s another assault on historic preservation," she said. The skyline along the five blocks being discussed, which includes the Delano and National Hotels, “is probably the most photographed of the whole city,” she said, and she couldn’t see adding a new building in the middle of it.
Another board member, Jack Finglass, wanted the City and developer to explore ways the long-term preservation of the three “iconic” buildings – Richmond, Raleigh, and South Seas – could be guaranteed if Shvo were allowed to build the tower.
“That’s what historic preservation is about, trying to save what we’ve got, not to restrict new buildings or new 20 story buildings but in context,” Finglass said. “You must admit the 20-story building is not in scale with what is immediately in this spot.”
Shvo’s architect, Kobi Karp, said the tower “can be shorter but the footprint would be bigger and the setback to Collins and the ocean would be less.”
Karp said, in his opinion, the taller tower is “the best solution for the site” providing “the most openness and the most relief to the original buildings that Dixon laid out on the site versus the longer, shorter additions approved or possible on all three properties."
As to Shvo, Karp said, “Michael is selling preservation and style, that’s what he did at the Crown,” an iconic building Shvo is restoring in New York City.
“I think you are destroying, really, a historic monument,” Liebman said, unconvinced. 
Shvo then got up to make his case, assuring the Board first that “We’re not trying to build anything that you don’t want us to build.”
“I’ve tried to buy this property four times. It is the most amazing property in Miami Beach,” he said. “In my opinion, this is the jewel of Miami Beach.”
Noting he paid “over $100 million, over $1 million a key which is a record for a property that is not an operating property,” Shvo said, “From an economic point of view, the way to make money is to make the building a residential building and sell off the residences. [Units in the Raleigh] would have sold at huge numbers.”
It’s the same strategy he's using in New York at the Crown, a 1930s building at 730 Fifth Avenue, which will contain a hotel and residences. After getting the original plans, he got to work restoring the building including spending $500,000 to put the weather vane back on top of the building after finding the company that made the copper for the original weather vane, he said.
“People want two things,” Shvo told the HPB members. “Either they want a brand new glass tower that’s kind of the thing of the moment or they’re willing to pay for something historical that has character.”
The Raleigh is Shvo’s first project in Miami Beach. He expanded his vision for it after looking at the adjacent properties. “The properties are deteriorating,” he said. 
The South Seas, “a beautiful historic building,” Shvo said already has approved plans that will “pile up more additions” on top of other additions. “You have a beautiful historic building and all you’re doing, you’re covering it with more and more real estate. There’s nothing great about it, in my opinion,” 
Restoring the Richmond and South Seas to their original L. Murray Dixon design involves removing “the things that were just added in different phases that we think really take away from the beautiful Art Deco design and make that streetscape exactly the way it was when it was built,” Shvo said. “In order to do that we’re stripping off all that square footage that was added that’s not historic and, obviously, we have to place it somewhere… Staff recommended ‘Take your FAR and move it away from the street and move it away from the beach in a place where it’s least intrusive.’”
“We believe that if we do it, it will restore that street – the entire street – to the historic design and that’s my intent, that’s what I’d like to do, obviously, with everyone’s permission here,” he told the Board.
He emphasized he’s not asking for any more density but the ability to concentrate it so the community doesn’t end up with a “fat and short building as opposed to a narrow building that doesn’t block the neighbors.”
Daniel Ciraldo, Executive Director of the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL), said, “MDPL supports the text amendment.” Though the only renderings anyone has seen are massing concepts rather than actual designs, Ciraldo told the Board, “I would hope you’re open to allowing the design process to happen and seeing what they come back with,” reminding the Board they had final say over approval of any design and height.
“We would like [the Raleigh] to stay a hotel,” Ciraldo said, adding having the “three properties joined together” for hotel use and a condo tower “that’s separate from the historic building, completely” would be a public benefit.
City Design and Preservation Manager Debbie Tackett acknowledged, “There’s a lot of room for significant restoration” by “aggregating all three properties, opportunities to bring the Raleigh back even closer as well as the South Seas portions and the Richmond.”
HPB Chair Stevan Pardo said, “This is an opportunity – the way I see it – is an opportunity to preserve historically what is there now” while providing flexibility for development.
The Board voted 5-1 to favorably recommend the amendment to the Commission which will consider it for the first time at its meeting next week. Rick Lopez was the no vote. Kirk Paskal was not on the dais when the vote was taken and was considered absent. Liebman, trusting that the project’s design would come back to the HPB for approval, voted in favor.
July 14, 2019: This story was corrected to reflect the location of the proposed tower. An earlier version indicated it would be directly behind the Raleigh. The proposal is for it to be centered behind the Richmond and South Seas.

Photos of The Raleigh courtesy The Raleigh Hotel Facebook page

Photo of the Crown Building courtesy Shvo

The Raleigh's unique pool

The Crown Building, 730 Fifth Avenue, New York City. Michael Shvo and a partner own and are restoring the building's upper floors.

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