Miami-Dade County

Institute of Contemporary Art hits snag in historic neighborhood

An early rendering of ICA Miami
An early rendering of ICA Miami

When auto magnate Norman Braman and developer Craig Robins laid the groundwork last year to build a new home for the Institute of Contemporary Art, they envisioned the private institution carving a cutting-edge niche in Miami’s arts scene and serving as the crown jewel of the city’s luxury shopping mecca.

But only half the museum campus is actually in the Design District.

The full ICA Miami property straddles two neighborhoods. And a sculpture garden in the rear of the museum is planned on property in Buena Vista East — a historic district where homeowners are now pushing back against the museum’s plans.

Tensions between ICA Miami and Buena Vista East residents have existed for months. Both sides say they were working toward an amicable resolution before talks fell apart and their disagreements boiled over in public last week, potentially delaying construction and possibly complicating plans.

“It’s a concern,” Braman said. “There’s no question about it.”

The museum is being built entirely with private funds, much of it provided by Braman and his wife, Irma, who is co-chair of the museum’s board. But to build a new facility, ICA Miami leaders need the city to rezone the entire campus and allow the demolition of three duplexes in the rear of the campus along 42nd Street.

Hearings on both issues were scheduled this week. But a vote on the demolition was delayed until June, and planning board members pushed a vote on a rezoning back to July despite objections from the museum’s attorney after a Wednesday night hearing turned testy.

“You are putting a museum in the middle of a residential neighborhood,” board member Maria Lievano-Cruz said, according to The Real Deal real estate blog, which first reported the dispute. “I don’t understand how the city can support that.”

Schiller Jerome, president of the Buena Vista East Historic Neighborhood Association, said in an interview that his neighbors like the idea of the museum and wouldn’t have objections were it located entirely in the Design District. But he said they’re worried about the 70-foot height of the building, and the campus’ encroachment into the neighborhood.

Jerome also said neighbors are hyper-sensitive to development, given their proximity to an area where buyers have paid as much as $1,500 per square foot for real estate. That’s why talking about zoning changes makes people nervous, he said.

“We love what the Design District is doing, but as a homeowner, when you see people wanting to buy anything they can get hands on in your neighborhood, you’re worried,” he said.

Still, Jerome said museum leaders and neighborhood activists were working together until Tuesday, when he said the museum abruptly chose to delay a vote by the city’s historic board and pursue a zoning change without first getting approval to demolish the homes in Buena Vista.

“Until Tuesday morning, we thought we had a working agreement. But it didn’t happen,” said Jerome, who says the museum’s leaders never fully committed to changes requested by the neighborhood.

Braman, however, says the neighborhood reneged on a prior agreement.

“We’ve made repeated efforts in working with them. We thought we had understandings previously reached as far back as December and there’s always more demands and more demands and more demands,” he said.

Ultimately, Miami’s City Commission has final say on the rezoning, and on the demolition of the homes to make way for the garden if the historic board’s eventual ruling is appealed. Groundbreaking for the museum is anticipated in December, with a grand opening planned in time for Art Basel 2016.

For his part, Robins says he’s not worried.

The developer, who supports the museum but isn’t involved beyond the land donated late last year by Miami Design District Associates, says the whole thing will get worked out.

“I think most people in South Florida, including the majority of the residents in the Buena Vista homeowners association, realize the ICA is one of the most important things that is happening in Miami right now,” said Robins, who says homeowners deserve to be heard. “I’m sure nobody is going to let this opportunity slip through our hands. I really don’t think this is a big deal.”

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