Miami Beach

Miami Beach residents raise questions about Convention Center plans, Gleason Theater

 

Residents shared their ideas and concerns for the renovation of the Miami Beach Convention Center area.

WEB VOTE A plan to revamp the Miami Beach Convention Center could entail tearing down the Jackie Gleason Theater, which some residents believe should be preserved. Should it be considered a historic site?

cveiga@MiamiHerald.com

Miami Beach residents packed the Miami Beach Convention Center to share their ideas and concerns about plans to revamp the aging meeting space in the heart of South Beach.

Two teams are vying to land the project, which spans 52 acres and is expected to cost up to $1 billion in public and private money.

The city is looking for a team to improve not only the convention center, but also to create an entire residential, commercial and entertainment district on the property, which includes the current City Hall and the Jackie Gleason Theater.

Tuesday’s meeting was the first of a series of public workshops and was billed as a “listening tour” for developers who will come back in a month to present design plans based on the community’s input.

Developers should be inclined to listen because their plans will likely have to go to a public referendum for approval since the project includes city property.

Among residents’ concerns:

• What will become of the Jackie Gleason Theater? The building is not considered historic, but is beloved by many. It may be torn down to make room for a new hotel on the convention center site.

The proposal comes at a time that Miami Beach preservationists have pledged a renewed campaign to protect more buildings and homes by getting them deemed as historic.

The fight was spawned by a petition by Dr. Leonard Hochstein and his wife, Lisa — he, a plastic surgeon known as “The Boob God” and she, a cast member of Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Miami — to tear down a Star Island home the couple recently purchased.

Resident Rick Olivadoti, who lives across the street from the convention center, invoked the couple when pleading with developers to consider preserving the Gleason.

“Sometimes it’s nice not to tear things down. Make something else out of it,” he said.

Not everyone agreed.

Notably, former Beach commissioner and preservationist Nancy Liebman said the theater has been so altered over the years that it’s probably not worth preserving.

• Where will the buses park and the trucks idle?

“They’re loud and they’re stinky,” said Jonathan Kroner, who lives just down the street from the convention center, on Prairie Avenue. He said with the current configuration, drivers sit with their vehicles idling near residential buildings.

• Integration: Several residents asked developers to use the convention center site to better connect the neighborhoods it now separates and to consider ways to integrate the nearby New World Symphony and the ongoing development at Collins Park.

“Context is important . . . respect everyting else” in the neighborhood, said Larry Rockind, a resident and architect by trade.

Other issues raised: Does the city even need a larger convention center or another hotel? How will traffic be affected? Will the center be subject to the same flooding issues that plague much of the low-lying, artificial sandbar that is Miami Beach?

Though many residents had their own ideas about how the new development should look, it seemed nearly unanimous that the convention center definitely needs a facelift.

“This is one of the most atrocious buildings, that was probably designed by a demented architect," said resident Alejandro Arce, drawing laughter and scattered applause.

Follow @Cveiga on Twitter.

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