Architect Gehry has designs on Deauville site. Miami Beach voters will get their say
When world-renowned architect Frank Gehry presented a vision for the future of the Deauville hotel site to the Miami Beach City Commission on Wednesday, he received the celebrity treatment at the meeting at City Hall.
Commissioners Ricky Arriola and David Richardson took out their phones to snap photos. Mayor Dan Gelber praised Gehry as the world’s most famous living architect and called it an “exciting moment” for the city.
Gehry, standing next to a miniature model of the design, explained how he and Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross plan to bring a “gift” to the North Beach neighborhood in the form of a 125-unit luxury condo tower and a 175-room hotel with green space in between.
“I’d like to come here and have a great experience and help make something special for you,” Gehry said.
Commissioners then handed Gehry and Ross a victory, approving a November citywide ballot referendum that will ask voters to allow increased density at the site of the historic Deauville, which was built in 1957 and famously hosted a Beatles performance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964.
“This is, I think, a great opportunity,” Gelber said. “You don’t hire Frank Gehry as an ornament. You hire him to do something very special.”
The Nov. 8 referendum will ask voters whether to approve increased floor-area ratio at the site of the Deauville, which has been closed since an electrical fire in 2017 and is now being demolished. Ross is proposing a 375-foot condo tower in an area that currently has a 200-foot height limit.
The city commission also gave initial approval to new zoning laws Ross is seeking, setting up a final commission vote in December if the November referendum is passed.
“It’s a dream for me to be here to talk about a project like this,” said Ross, who grew up in North Beach. “It will rebuild and lift a whole community.”
Gelber said the proposal solves a problem for the city at the Deauville site. The city has sparred in court with the hotel’s owners, the Meruelo family, over millions of dollars in code violations as the property has languished.
“This is a binary choice: either a barren lot or something like this,” Gelber said.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing at the meeting for Ross, the founder of real estate giant Related.
Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez cast the lone vote against the voter referendum, saying the project’s design fails to pay proper homage to the historic hotel.
“We must replicate or preserve some aspect of the Deauville,” she said.
The nonprofit Miami Design Preservation League has raised concerns about the proposal, and the project still must be approved by the city’s Historic Preservation Board, which has authority to decide how the Deauville should be replaced after it is demolished.
“If we don’t strike a deal with the Design Preservation League, they’ll fight this at the ballot and potentially win,” Rosen Gonzalez said.
Some commissioners also took issue with Ross and lobbyist Neisen Kasdin, a former Miami Beach mayor, framing the project as a chance to revive a struggling neighborhood. North Beach was formally declared “blighted” in 2019 to allow for the creation of a Community Redevelopment Agency, which will receive money from increased property taxes in the area.
“North Beach is not a slum and North Beach is not blighted,” Commissioner Alex Fernandez said. “I personally take great offense to that.”
Fernandez advocated for the developers to invest in affordable and workforce housing in the neighborhood, noting that the high-end project could lead to increased rents and displace lower-income residents.
Ross said he wants to help bring workforce housing to North Beach, though not specifically through the project at the Deauville site. Miami-Dade County defines workforce housing as housing that is affordable for families whose incomes are between 60 to 140 percent of the area’s median income.
His proposal includes $12 million for the city to put toward public benefits of its choosing. Rosen Gonzalez argued that the amount should be larger and based on added value the developers will receive due to increased density.
The project is still in the early stages. While the city’s Planning Board endorsed the requested zoning changes last month, the details of the project will be hashed out during a site plan review process and in a development agreement with the city.
Gehry, 93, designed the New World Center in Miami Beach over a decade ago and publicly feuded with city officials at the time over construction costs and his role in the project.
At the commission meeting on Wednesday, he said he plans to work with the community and respect the Deauville’s past.
“I know there’s a history,” Gehry said. “It’s hard to do it, but we’ll do it. I’ll listen to you.”