Plans for the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami’s new home in the Design District received a significant boost yesterday.
During a contentious hearing that lasted more than two hours, Miami’s Historic and Environmental Protection Board voted 3 to 2 to let ICA tear down three homes in the historic Buena Vista neighborhood to make way for a sculpture garden that is part of the planned museum.
The project’s design and construction is being financed by billionaire auto dealer Norman Braman and his wife, Irma, who is chairwoman of ICA’s board of directors. The couple funded ICA’s $1.6 million purchase of two residential properties on Northeast 42nd Street and between Northeast First Avenue and North Miami Avenue, said Steven Helfman, a land use attorney for the institute.
Design District developer, and Dacra President and CEO Craig Robins deeded the third residence, as well as two adjoining empty commercial lots on Northeast 41st Street where the actual museum building will be located, over to the institute last year.
“Mr. Braman bought millions of dollars worth of property to create a buffer so you don’t have a museum that is right up against a residential neighborhood,” Helfman told the preservation board. “This is a nonprofit, civic philanthropic effort.”
Last month, ICA hit a snag when the city’s Planning and Zoning Appeals Board delayed its decision to approve or deny changing the zoning on the three residential properties pending the preservation board’s vote. During that meeting, several homeowners and representatives of the Buena Vista East Historic Neighborhood Association voiced their opposition to the project.
Since then, the association and ICA reached an agreement, according to Buena Vista East President Jerome Schiller. “I have been in dialogue with ICA to discuss several issues that we have,” Schiller informed the preservation board. “We went from totally not supporting the project to being for it. We understand it is going to be a civic institute.”
Schiller and Helfman said both parties had entered into a covenant that would protect the character of the Buena Vista neighborhood and minimize the impact to residents. “We have been put in a very difficult position,” said Helfman. “We have attempted to address all of their concerns. We think we have done that.”
Despite the truce between the association and ICA, some homeowners still spoke out against the project.
Wendy Stephan, who owns three Buena Vista homes including one on the same block as the proposed garden, said allowing ICA to demolish the three properties would set a dangerous precedent. “We think this threatens the integrity of the historic district,” Stephan said.
Jeff Archer, a 40-year Buena Vista resident, said the museum and sculpture garden would bring congestion to the neighborhood, as well as noise and light pollution. “I feel like my privacy is being taken away from me,” Archer said. “I know they are going to be having parties and the noise is going to be crazy. That is one of my biggest problems.”
Preservation board chairman William E. Hopper Jr. sympathized with the locals and voted against ICA. “This looks like the nose of the camel protruding into a historic district,” Hopper said. “And I am uncomfortable with that.”
The residents almost got their way. The preservation board initially voted 3 to 2 to deny the demolition of the three homes. However, board member David Freedman flipped his vote after adding a caveat restricting access to a proposed gate for emergencies only.
Lawyers for ICA had explained that the institute also needed to use the gate to bring in sculptures that are too large to enter through the planned museum. Helfman said ICA may appeal the restriction to the city commission. But first, the institute has to go back to the zoning appeals board in July.