Miami Beach preservation board expresses concerns over stalled Faena Versailles tower

Faena Versailles and Alan Faena
Rendering of the Faena Versailles towers and Alan Faena

In order to protect the gutted 16-story Versailles Hotel in Miami Beach from the elements, and to avoid the wrath of code enforcement, developer Alan Faena plans to wrap the entire 77-year-old building with a plain red wrap absent of logos while the development company re-evaluates its proposed renovation project.

The building during Art Basel

A wrap with the logo “CULTURE REIMAGINED Faena District” was partially blown down about a month ago, said Matthew Barnes, a consultant for Akerman LLP, the Brickell-based law firm that represents the Faena Group.

That same wrap was also installed without proper permits and violated the city’s sign ordinance, according to a May 9 report from Miami Beach planning director Tom Mooney to the city’s historic preservation board. “To the day of writing this report, the site has several open violations related to the installation [of] banners and signs,” Mooney wrote. “In addition, there is an open violation for failing to comply with the required 40-year building recertification.”

Mooney’s report pointed out that the “banner facing south was partially detached from the building on at least two recent occasions, creating a potentially hazardous condition for the public and surrounding properties within this highly dense and congested area of Collins Avenue.” And although Barnes stated that the banner was meant to protect the building, the north side of the Versailles was not covered, said Deborah Tackett, the city’s chief of historic preservation.

Faena initially sought a variance allowing the company to seek an after-the-fact permit that would allow his contractors to wrap the building with red material that includes a Faena logo. That request, however, was withdrawn during Tuesday’s meeting. Instead, the historic preservation board, by a 5 to 1 vote, approved a variance that would allow decorative red banners with “Faena” logos to remain on ground-level fences on the north and east sides of the property.

Board members were more concerned with Faena postponing his plans to transform the Versailles Hotel, originally built in 1940 and designed by architect Roy France, into a condominium.

Empty since 2011, the Versailles Hotel at 3425 Collins Avenue was among several properties the Argentine developer purchased between 32nd and 36th streets along Collins Avenue for his Faena District. Faena House, a luxury condo tower, the Faena Miami Beach Hotel and the Faena Forum arts complex, have already been completed. The Faena Bazaar retail building and a parking garage are under construction.

In April 2015, Faena announced that he would convert the old Versailles Hotel into a 22-unit condo called the Faena Versailles Classic. A new 16-story condo tower designed by architect Brandon Haw, now called Faena Mar, would be constructed on an empty lot just south of Versailles. Renovation work at the Versailles, including the demolition of a circa-1955 edition and the removal of walls, commenced and was due to be completed in mid-2018.

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However, Faena told The Real Deal this past October that he was putting the Faena Versailles Classic and Faena Mar projects on hold while he re-evaluates the condo market.

Faena’s attorney, Neisen Kasdin, also admitted that the project was on hold in a March 27 letter to the preservation board “due to shifting macroeconomic conditions.”

But the hotel has already been gutted contractors and that worried some board members. “They’re not sure of the direction they are going with the buildings,” said board member Scott Needleman, who asked that staffers keep an eye on the structure lest it “starts falling apart.”

Board member Kirk Paskal was uneasy about Faena placing a “billboard” on an historic building that’s now little more than a “ripped down carcass.”

But board member Wynn Bradley pointed out that Faena was still renovating the building. In the letter, Kasdin stated that Faena is “undertaking the concrete restoration part of the renovations to the Versailles to ensure that the structural integrity of the Versailles is maintained.” That includes “covering up any metal re-bar that is currently exposed to the salt air with concrete so that the rebar does not deteriorate.”

“They have an open permit. They’re doing work,” Bradley said.

Paskal agreed that Faena is still intent on preserving the building. However, he couldn’t condone an unauthorized wrap adorned with a Faena logo. “I don’t want to punish anyone,” he said. “I don’t want to incentivize this either.”

Barnes assured the board that although the original Versailles condo concept “is not viable in the market right now” Faena was “not letting it deteriorate.” He also insisted that the wrap wasn’t meant to be an advertisement for the Faena District, but an aesthetic wrap. Barnes later told TRD that artistic decorative wraps were placed around the Versailles during Art Basel.

The board approved the fence variance and encouraged Faena to cocoon the Versailles skeleton entirely in plain red wrap. Paskal was the lone “no” vote.

The board will also invite Faena to give a progress report to the board on the Versailles’ restoration.

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