Miami-Dade County

ICA Miami rezoning gets tentative approval

A rendering of the proposed Institute of Contemporary Art and sculpture garden, looking south from Buena Vista East.
A rendering of the proposed Institute of Contemporary Art and sculpture garden, looking south from Buena Vista East. Courtesy

Against the objections of a small group of homeowners — and an important, absent elected official — Miami commissioners moved one step closer Thursday to approving a ballyhooed private art museum in the Design District.

By a 3-1 vote, commissioners gave tentative approval to rezone five parcels straddling the Design District and Buena Vista East, a historic residential neighborhood in Miami’s Upper Eastside. A second, final approval would grant the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami the ability to build a 37,500-square-foot museum, with a 15,000-square-foot sculpture garden in the rear, pending a subsequent public approval for a site plan.

Thursday’s vote comes more than six months after museum chairwoman Irma Braman and her auto magnate husband, Norman Braman, announced that the privately funded museum was planned in the Design District. The institution, proposed just 50 feet from the de la Cruz art collection, is envisioned as a feather in the cap for the area, which has grown into Miami’s luxury shopping and high-culture mecca.

In Buena Vista East, however, the view of the project is more jaded and some neighbors remain concerned about introducing a cultural attraction into their borders. At one point, concerns raised by city advisory boards threatened to delay or even derail the museum’s planned opening for Art Basel 2016. But Mayor Tomás Regalado and city commissioners recently ensured a swifter process, leading some critics to question whether the city was fast-tracking the museum in order to appease Braman.

Those criticisms likely won’t be doused by Thursday’s proceedings. Area Commissioner Keon Hardemon, who was in Jakarta, Indonesia, Thursday for the 2015 New Cities Summit, requested that the vote be deferred to another meeting when he could attend. His colleagues rejected his request and took up the issue anyway, noting that it was only the first of two hearings.

“He is livid,” Hardemon’s chief of staff, James McQueen, said before the hearing.

Upper Eastside activist Elvis Cruz noted that the museum was unable to seek the proposed Civic Institution (CI) zoning proposed Thursday due to its land mass being too small to apply under Miami law. “This is a case of selective enforcement and favoritism,” he said.

Planning Director Francisco Garcia, however, said the planning department is allowed under city law to recommend the CI zoning regardless of the city’s size restrictions, which is what happened Thursday. Commissioner Francis Suarez told concerned neighbors that they’ll have more chances to weigh in.

“This is one very minor step in a very long process,” he said.

Only Commissioner Marc Sarnoff voted against the proposed rezoning, saying he thought the commission should have heeded Hardemon’s request to defer the item, as is typical when the commissioner represents the area in question. Sarnoff also urged the museum’s attorneys to provide a covenant negotiated with the area’s supportive neighborhood association during the next hearing.