Miami’s historic preservation board on Monday narrowly decided against designation of The Miami Herald building as a protected landmark, in a daylong public hearing marked by acrimony and outbursts by consultants working for the property’s owner, Malaysian casino operator Genting.
The board voted 5-3 to turn down a designation report by the city preservation’s officer, who concluded that the building merited landmark status under four of the historic and architectural criteria required by city ordinance. Only one criterion need be met for a building to qualify for designation. Two board members, including Chairman William Hopper, were absent.
A majority of board members, however, said they were unpersuaded that the building’s history, the role played by the newspaper’s owners, editors and executives in city and newspaper history, and the structure’s distinctive but popularly unloved mid-20th Century Miami Modern design, were factors weighty enough to save the building.
“It doesn’t stand out as remarkable,’’ said member Hugh Ryan, a contractor.
Board members in the minority vehemently disagreed. Architect Jorge Kuperman said designation was not about the building’s beauty, but about preserving the history associated with a significant landmark, as well as its characteristic design.
“It’s important. That’s why we’re talking about it today,’’ Kuperman said.
Genting, which bought the building and its surrounding parking lots for $236 million last year, has said it intends to demolish the 50-year-old building, at 1 Herald Plaza north of downtown. But it’s not known what will replace it because Genting’s effort to legalize gambling in the state has stalled.
Genting architect Bernardo Fort-Brescia, co-principal of Arquitectonica, said after the hearing he will go back to finalizing a plan for a scaled-down version of a gargantuan project the casino giant originally presented last year. The new development, focused on the Herald building site, is likely to include luxury condominiums, a luxury hotel, restaurants and retail shops, plus a baywalk.
Genting’s attorney, Vicky Garcia-Toledo, said her client was “extremely grateful to the historic preservation board for their thorough review of the issue.’’
The board decision can be appealed to the city commission, but preservationists who applied for designation said they’re unlikely to do so.
Architects, historians, preservationists and other experts who testified in support of designation lamented the vote as a lost opportunity to integrate the building into Genting’s plans. An architect who reviews applications for the National Register of Historic Places and helped put on preservationists’ case, Rick Gonzalez, said the Herald building would likely have qualified for the federal list.
Gonzalez was one of five recognized experts, including Morris Hylton III, director of the University of Florida’s historic preservation program, who testified that the building was both architecturally and historically significant and could be expanded and adapted to multiple uses.
“We’re dreadfully disappointed, but we put up a good fight. We proved our case that the building has architectural and historic merit,’’ said Becky Roper Matkov, executive director of Dade Heritage Trust.