Among the most debated and anticipated redevelopment plans in recent Miami Beach history, the proposed makeover for Ocean Terrace won a major approval from the city’s Historic Preservation Board on Tuesday.
The site of the plan is one block on a short beachfront street called Ocean Terrace. It is packed with historic buildings that have special protections from complete demolition.
But this block, a low-key counterpart to South Beach’s Ocean Drive, is more than just a cluster of old structures in need of serious upgrades. It’s a cornerstone of the imminent redevelopment of North Beach, the city’s most affordable neighborhood. It’s a beacon for local activism that sparked when the public voted it down in November 2015, setting the stage for the creation of a master plan for the future of North Beach that involved hundreds of residents.
It’s a project that failed to win public support when its developer proposed to demolish eleven historic buildings, including examples of Miami Beach’s signature 20th century Art Deco and Miami Modern architectural styles. The developer took heed, turned to a new team of consultants and crafted a plan that would restore and reuse street-level facades while building a new condo tower in the center of the block.
After much sound and fury over the past three years, Ocean Terrace has now cleared a crucial hurdle. The development team, which includes Claro Development’s Sandor Scher, his investor Alex Blavatnik, architects Richard Heisenbottle and Luis Revuelta and landscape architect Enzo Enea, can now start talking to hotel operators and move toward construction.
“We can take some important steps now,” said Scher after the vote.
But that hurdle was a doozy. Though the vote was unanimous, the preservation board approved the plan with a host of conditions and compromises that, in keeping with the pace at which this project has progressed over the past three years, were worked out over four hours of Tuesday’s daylong hearing.
One significant sticking point: The complete demolition of 7420 Ocean Terrace, the dilapidated Ocean Horizon building that is in such bad shape that it already has a demolition order. The developer proposed tearing the building down and replacing its facade with a translucent glass entryway fashioned in the same style as the existing facade.
A few board members and the city’s historic preservation staff weren’t comfortable with the proposal. After much negotiating, the board approved the concept of the plan but will require the developer to come back for approval of details of the design. Most of the hangups were over what materials would be used to build the entryway and how much of the existing building’s material could be used.
“I think it’s worth more than just fleeting consideration,” said board member Kirk Paskal, a North Beach resident of 18 years. He emphasized that he wants to preserve the authenticity of the original structure.
The intense focus on the minutiae of the project echoed comments made throughout the hearing from board members and representatives of the development team, all of whom acknowledged Ocean Terrace was a “big, complex project.” Indeed, all but one parcel on a beachfront city block is being altered as part of the transformative plan that factors largely into the greater revitalization of North Beach.
“I’m thrilled with the project,” said Paula King, a North Beach activist, adding that she took issue only with the demolition plan. “That’s the only thing that bothers me about the project. Otherwise, it’s beautiful.”
Overall, the development team plans to preserve the facades and in many cases the whole front portion of 11 historic buildings on Ocean Terrace and Collins Avenue, restoring original major architectural features and modifying windows on a few buildings to make them more retail-friendly by extending them to the floor.
The developer wants to restore and connect two historic hotels that are in use today: The Broadmoor at the corner of 75th Street and Ocean Terrace, currently operated as a Days Inn, and the Ocean Surf Hotel directly south of it. With the connection, the two will form one 78-room hotel. Original railings and windows will be installed.
On the back end of the hotels and buildings across the block, connecting courtyards will be built, including a mid-block breezeway connecting Collins Avenue to Ocean Terrace. On the southeast corner of the block, a 235-foot condo tower with 58 units would be erected. It would emerge from behind MiMo facades like two winged pillars with a slim core, a design meant to imitate the irregular shapes left behind by water receding from sand on the beach.
About four stories above street level, a lushly landscaped amenity deck would extend from the condo tower, with a pool and other outdoor space for residents. The edge of the deck — the subject of another lengthy debate at Tuesday’s meeting — would end a minimum of 12 feet from the historic facades facing Ocean Terrace and undulate from the property line in a wavelike fashion, meaning the deck would end an average of 15 feet from the front of the historic buildings.
A notable facade at 7433 Collins Ave., home to the once-lauded Curry’s Steak House, would be brought back to life with original glass blocks, bricks and even the same font of the original sign. To the north, the building at the corner of Collins Avenue and 75th Street would be torn down to make way for a corner structure with a curved face that would have retail on the ground floor and parking above. The parking would be concealed by a skin adorned by landscaping and geometric cutouts meant to provide ventilation for the garage and serve as a nod to MiMo design elements.
After hours of negotiating on a series of variances associated with the plan, the development team secured the support of the six preservation board members who were present. The seventh member had to leave the meeting in the late afternoon.
During public comments, Daniel Veitia, a North Beach activist and real estate professional, recounted how the community has wanted someone to invest in Ocean Terrace for almost 30 years.
“All I can hope for is that they actually move forward and build it very quickly,” he said.