“The Herald building is truly so important, more so than I ever imagined, the more I have read about the history and studied the architecture,’’ said Dade Heritage Trust CEO Becky Roper Matkov, who said she initially saw little of distinction in the building until her eyes were opened during a tour led by fans of the style.
“It’s really a wonderfully exciting building that we have taken for granted all these years,” she said. “Like so much of architecture, when we start focusing on it we start appreciating it. We just can’t allow the 50 years of history that it embodies to be just wiped away. This is too important a Miami landmark to let go.’’
The petition could put the city in an awkward spot. Genting, which paid $236 million for the property, argues that its as-yet-unspecified project would be a better use of the land and would provide public access to the waterfront, now blocked off by The Herald building, which has a narrow bay-walk that’s been fenced off for security. (Under the sale agreement, the newspaper, which has taken no position on the designation issue, can remain in the building rent-free until April.)
Although Genting floated conceptual renderings for a colossal project on the site, no specific plans have been filed with the city, and its efforts to get resort-casino gambling legalized in the state have stalled.
Mayor Tomas Regalado and other city leaders have been eager to redevelop the site, though they have been cautious about embracing Genting’s ideas for it.
But laws governing historic designation effectively bar consideration of what other uses the site may have. The preservation board, whose members are appointed by elected officials, are required to make their decision based strictly on the existing building’s architectural and historic merits, as well as possibilities for reuse. The board has final say, although Genting could appeal a grant of historic designation to the commission.
If the preservation board votes Monday to accept the case, that would bar any applications for building permits by Genting while the city preservation office readies an in-depth analysis of the building’s architectural and historic merits.
An initial preservation report by the city, however, is studiously cool on the case, urging board members to “carefully’’ consider the building’s historic value but dismissing its architectural merits out of hand — a stance that preservationists consider absurd given increasing literature documenting and extolling its design.
The report’s conclusions echo criticism by two leading Miami preservationists, architect Richard Heisenbottle and former Miami-Dade County preservation director Ivan Rodriguez, hired by Genting to rebut Dade Heritage Trust.
To the architectural consultants, The Herald building is no more than an obsolete industrial structure with little to recommend it architecturally or historically.
They say few of the events the Knights or Chapman influenced took place inside the building. And while the building does contain elements of MiMo design, they say, it’s no exemplar of the style.
“Clumsy, squat, with no sense of scale and proportion,’’ Rodriguez said. “I fail to see any qualities in it. It’s an industrial building. Take the sunscreens out, and all you have is a big, bulky box.’’