Most Miami Beach commissioners have a strong will to save the beloved log cabin in North Beach that dates back to 1934, when the area was so isolated that the family that built it had no neighbors. But the question remains how to pay for it.
On Wednesday, commissioners decided not to demolish the cabin at 81st Street and Collins Avenue but agreed to look for funding to restore it, consider a permanent home for the structure — the city has other plans for the land — and develop a plan for how to use it. The matter will be discussed again in September.
That decision came about a month after some of those same commissioners agreed to pay for tearing down the cabin, a discussion that sparked an outpouring of community support for the 83-year-old cabin.
The finance subcommittee, made up of commissioners Joy Malakoff, Ricky Arriola and John Elizabeth Alemán, initially decided to raze the cabin, based on evaluations that found it was infested with vermin and plagued by rotting wood, making it too costly to repair. Renovation would cost an estimated $500,000.
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When the community caught wind, several activists and historic preservation groups called for the city to save the cabin. Alemán and Arriola decided to reevaluate and bring the discussion back to the subcommittee and the full commission.
On Wednesday, commissioners still struggled to come up with a concrete financial plan to save the cabin.
Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez suggested applying for state funding to avoid using local money to fund the project. Malakoff was skeptical, saying that the city probably wouldn’t receive enough money to cover the total cost of rebuilding or restoring the cabin.
“I’m not optimistic about getting state funds to restore this and I personally don’t want to take half a million from the budget to preserve this,” Malakoff said.
She also posed the question of whether the cabin was even a true historical property.
North Beach residents disagreed. Preservationist Kirk Paskal said the Miami-Dade County Historic Preservation Board and a handful of others have submitted letters of support and say that it’s the only cabin of its kind in North Beach.
“I personally feel the exterior and interior is significant and worthwhile to be appreciated by the public,” Paskal said. “I appreciate you taking the time and making the effort to come up with a solution so that it could be saved.”
Rosen Gonzalez defended its importance.
“It means a lot to people and this cabin has emotional ties,” Gonzalez said. “We shouldn’t touch this cabin until we secure funding and have a plan.”
Alemán said she wasn’t comfortable using $500,000 from the city budget but was open to exploring other options.
“I’m not there yet, but I’m all for new solutions,” she said.
The cabin has had a number of uses over the years. It was built and designed by a Miami Beach architect as a home for his family in 1934. Over the years, multiple families called the cabin home, until it was transformed into a plant nursery that held daily programs for adults with disabilities.
The city took over the lease in 2011. Since then, it has been left to weather the harsh elements on its own — slowly decaying and, according to some reports, becoming infested with termites and rats.
Mayor Philip Levine suggested the cabin be moved until the issue is resolved so that it does not interfere with plans to open North Beach Yard, an outdoor gathering space that was approved for that location Wednesday.
City Manager Jimmy Morales said moving the cabin could cause further damage.
Morales also discussed his concerns for future accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act and for commercial use. He said an entirely different evaluation would be needed to determine how to get the cabin up to code for public use.
City officials want to hold a community workshop to brainstorm ideas on how to save the cabin before commissioners discuss the matter again in September, but have not scheduled it.