UPDATED May 11, 11:30 p.m.: The Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board this week approved an extensive renovation of the 92-year-old Clay Hotel that borders popular Espanola Way.
Clay Hotel Partnership Ltd. and Infinity Real Estate submitted plans for a phased renovation of a cluster of retail and hotel buildings at 1435 Washington Avenue that are currently known as The Clay Hotel. The property is part of the “Spanish Village” along Espanola Way that was built by N.B.T. Roney in 1925 and designed by architect Robert Taylor.
“The Spanish Village has been noted for its authentic reproduction of the Mediterranean style,” Planning Director Tom Mooney wrote in his May 9 report to the board. The Clay Hotel is also part of Miami Beach’s first historic district, The Espanola Way Local Historic District, which was created in 1986, Mooney’s report added.
The renovation plans will include adding a roof deck with planters, installing new roof pedestrian roof bridges, building three new stairwells and three new elevators. The project will also reconfigure the lobby, allowing one of The Clay Hotel’s tenants, O Mexico!, to expand.
The project will also see the hotel rebranded as The Espanola Hotel, the structure’s original name.
Michael Marrero, an attorney representing Infinity Real Estate, said the building is in need of a major overhaul. Marrero told the board that The Clay hasn’t been “renovated or fixed in many, many decades.”
“We are not adding [floor area ratio] or height, we are creating an experience here that’s unique to anything in Miami Beach,” Marrero said. But to create that “experience,” contractors have had to address the concerns of fire inspectors, which meant adding new stairways and elevators, Marrero said.
And in order to address logistic issues, fire code concerns, and plain economics, it also means that the mosaic stairway in the lobby – located near the Espanola Way entrance – will have to be demolished, said Infinity Real Estate managing partner Steve Kassin.
Kassin said O Mexico!, which has a lease until 2031, gave up part of its space for an elevator, which was demanded by fire inspectors. In exchange, the lobby area where the stairs are currently would be granted to O Mexico!
Kassin said the reconfiguration will enable O Mexico! to continue to operate. It will also allow the hotel to collect an additional $2 million for the renovation project.
That didn’t sit well with board member Jack Finglass. “Once the stairway is gone, it’s gone,” Finglass said.
Finglass also demanded that the developer replace the “cheap” windows that now adorn The Clay Hotel and replace them with historic replicas of what existed back in the 1920s and ‘30s. Kassin said such a window treatment would make the project even more expensive. Finglass wouldn’t budge.
“So, what if it costs more? In 40 or 50 years, [the hoteliers] will make more,” he said.
Historic preservation board member Nancy Liebman, however, feared that such conditions could derail the renovation of an important project.
“I look at this as one of South Florida’s most important buildings to preserve,” said Liebman, a former Miami Beach commissioner and one of the first directors of the Miami Design Preservation League. “I look at this as the importance of the entire building rather than the minutiae of the detail.”
After much discussion, the majority of the HPB agreed with Liebman. They approved the hotel’s renovation, including the demolition of the mosaic staircase. Finglass was the lone dissenter.