Miami Beach preservation director William Cary said Genting split preservationists by hiring some respected veterans of the local movement as consultants to contest the designation.
“This was very sad,’’ Cary said. “They made an intentional effort to divide preservationists, and were successful.’’
The vote tally was greeted with a whoop by Genting’s numerous supporters, who packed Miami City Hall chambers and frequently interrupted the hearing — a quasi-judicial proceeding — with applause and catcalls despite board acting Chairman Gerald Marston’s pleas for quiet.
Genting’s experts, preservation architect Richard Heisenbottle and architectural historian Ivan Rodriguez, used unusually pointed language and tone to dismiss Dade Heritage Trust’s petition and city preservation officer Megan McLaughlin’s detailed 70-page report on the building, which significantly bolstered the case for designation.
4Heisenbottle attacked it as “biased’’ while Rodriguez called the report “creative writing’’ and “purple prose.’’
Things got heated when Genting’s architect, Bernardo Fort-Brescia of Arquitectonica, began arguing loudly with a lawyer for the Trust, Scott Silver, who was trying to ask him a question on cross-examination. Marston cut off Fort-Brescia’s microphone and asked him to respond.
Shortly afterward, during a break, a red-faced Fort-Brescia approached Matkov and began jabbing his finger in her face while shouting at her and Florida International University architecture professor Sandra Suarez. Fort-Brescia said he was “offended’’ that Suarez had used a quote “out of context’’ from an article by his wife, Arquitectonica co-principal Laurinda Spear, about the pressing need to save MiMo architecture. Other Genting consultants had to pull Fort-Brescia away.
Fort-Brescia said he thought they were incorrectly implying his wife supported designation of The Herald.
Spear’s article is the preface to a book on MiMo that extolls the Herald building’s architectural qualities.Later, during her summation of Genting’s case against designation, lawyer Garcia-Toledo alleged that Trust officials, whom she did not name, attempted to twice shake down her clients initially for $5 million and later $10 million in exchange for dropping the petition. She offered no proof, and stood by the claims during an interview after the hearing.
The money was to be used for historic preservation activities in the area surrounding The Herald, Garcia-Toledo alleged.
“We were told that … if we offered a $10 million contribution, they would take it to the board and they could almost guarantee acceptance,’’ Garcia-Toledo said. “I don’t know if I was offended more on behalf of my client or as a resident of Miami to know that history has a price.’’
The preservation board did not address Garcia-Toledo’s allegations, which were tangential to the debate on the building’s historic merits. Genting consultants had been whispering about the allegations to reporters for months, but did not respond to requests from The Miami Herald to provide evidence of their claims.
But Matkov and Trust supporters were infuriated, accusing Garcia-Toledo of attempting to smear them to discredit their case. Matkov said the matter came up once in a hallway conversation after a public meeting, when Garcia-Toledo asked what Genting could do to soften the impact of its development in the Omni area, which includes several historic buildings as well as the Arsht Center.
Matkov said she suggested establishing a fund at the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency for renovation of historic buildings in the area. But she said it “was never quid-pro-quo’’ and did not involve DHT’s dropping the petition. The idea went nowhere, she said.
“The DHT board never solicited nor accepted any money, period,’’ Matkov said.