Miami Beach

This Miami Beach building has been an eyesore for over a decade. It’s coming down.

The skeleton of the South Shore Hospital pictured on Thursday, April 11, 2019. The building is being prepped for demolition.
The skeleton of the South Shore Hospital pictured on Thursday, April 11, 2019. The building is being prepped for demolition. dvarela@miamiherald.com

After deteriorating at the entrance to South Beach for more than a decade, the abandoned South Shore Hospital building is finally coming down.

The concrete skeleton of the building that once served as a geriatric hospital at 630 Alton Road will be demolished on April 16 using explosives. In its place, developers Russell Galbut and David Martin plan to build a three-acre public park, a 519-foot, 44-story high-rise and 15,000 square feet of retail space on three lots near the entrance to the MacArthur Causeway.

It will take just 12 to 16 seconds to bring down the entire building. Small amounts of explosives strategically placed to take out building supports will be detonated and gravity will pull the building down, explained Steve Greenberg, a partner at demolition contractor BG Group.

Alton Road will be closed to traffic between Fifth and Seventh streets at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday ahead of the 10 a.m. implosion. During the demolition, residents in adjacent buildings won’t be allowed to go outside into a blocked off area stretching from West Avenue to Lenox Avenue. The implosion will create clouds of dust, but the streets should be cleaned up and reopened within 30 minutes to an hour, Greenberg said.

Miami Beach doesn’t allow implosions, which involve explosives, instead requiring demolitions to be performed using other methods that typically involve equipment such as cranes and excavators. City officials initially rejected BG Group’s request to demolish the South Shore Hospital using implosion, but the developer successfully appealed through the Miami-Dade County Board of Rules and Appeals.

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A rendering of the park and residential tower planned for the site of the South Shore Hospital, which will be demolished April 16. Arquitectonica

BG Group opted for implosion, Greenberg said, because the company believes it is the safest option for the site. Greenberg noted that in an implosion, workers don’t have to be near the building when it falls. It’s also a much faster method. A mechanical demolition would have required a lane closure on Alton Road for a longer period of time, Galbut said in an email.

The implosion of the South Shore Hospital comes less than a year after the demolition of an oceanfront condo building at 5775 Collins sent debris flying, killing a worker. A lawsuit filed by the family of the worker, Samuel Landis, against AlliedBean Demolition, AA Demolition Management and other companies involved in the project alleges that the demolition was carried out by “tripping” or yanking the supports out from under the building, which the suit says was not authorized by Miami Beach.

In this head-on view of the former Marlborough House's demolition, you can see the debris strike the person later identified as AlliedBean's project manager and the manager unconscious when the dust clears.

At an April 4 meeting to discuss the project, BG Group partner Ivy Fradin reassured area residents that the companies involved in the demolition — BG Group and CDI — have extensive experience with implosions. She said she was “highly confident that everything is going to go off as planned.”

Police will be on site and the demolition companies will station employees in the lobbies of adjacent residential buildings to make sure residents don’t enter the prohibited area during the implosion, according to the developers.

Preparation for the demolition started at the site on March 25. Parts of the building have been wrapped in chain link fence and workers have drilled holes in columns and weakened some of the shear walls that help the building resist horizontal forces like strong winds so that the building will fall straight down as intended, Fradin told residents.

The demolition marks a key step in what has so far been a long, contentious process.

It took months of negotiations and more than 100 meetings between residents and Galbut’s company, Crescent Heights, to reach an agreement about the project, which required approval from the City Commission. In exchange for permission to build what will end up being one of the tallest buildings in Miami Beach, the developer agreed to create a public park on the site with water absorption components designed to soak up floodwater. The developer has also agreed to build an elevated platform for a pedestrian bridge over Fifth Street that will be funded through Miami Beach’s $439 million general obligation bond program.

Galbut, who partnered with David Martin of Terra Group after reaching an agreement with the city, said that they plan to finish building the park during the summer of 2020.

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The South Shore Hospital building on Thursday, April 11, 2019, is being prepped for demolition. Daniel A. Varela dvarela@miamiherald.com

Before it was an abandoned building at the gateway to South Beach, the South Shore Hospital provided 196 beds to elderly residents. It was founded in 1968 but struggled financially after the area changed from a retirement community in the 1960s and ‘70s to a vibrant entertainment district in the 1990s.

Crescent Heights bought the facility in 2004 for $35 million, promising to develop the property as a top-notch hospital. The company converted the hospital from nonprofit to for-profit, but it had a slew of administrative problems. The hospital was also badly damaged in 2005 when the windows on the west side of the building were blown out by Hurricane Wilma’s winds. It closed in 2006 after going bankrupt.

Crescent Heights considered several plans for the site over the years, including a high-end shopping center and a large outlet mall and residential complex.

Meanwhile, the hospital sat vacant. The hospital equipment and windows were removed long before the demolition, leaving only the concrete columns and floors in place.

Kyra Gurney lives in Miami Beach and covers the island for the Miami Herald. She attended Columbia University and Colorado College and grew up in New Mexico.
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