Miami Beach board again delays vote on Michael Shvo’s proposed tower near Raleigh Hotel

Historic preservation board could vote on zoning waivers Sept. 8

Michael Shvo and a rendering of the tower (City of Miami)
Michael Shvo and a rendering of the tower (City of Miami)

New York real estate developer Michael Shvo’s proposal to build a 200-foot-tall tower beside three Art Deco hotels was continued yet again by Miami Beach’s Historic Preservation Board.

Tuesday’s unanimous vote to continue the item to Sept. 8 came after four hours of discussion, during which three board members expressed concern about the tower’s massing, height and location on the 3-acre oceanfront South Beach site anchored by the landmark Raleigh Hotel. Because Shvo’s plans require zoning waivers, five affirmative votes from the seven-membered board is required.

The development, near 1751 Collins Avenue, includes the neighboring Richmond and South Seas hotels. Tuesday’s continuance marked the third time since June that the board delayed a vote on the project.

Shvo wants to completely restore the 80-year-old Raleigh Hotel, substantially gut and renovate the 79-year-old South Seas and Richmond hotels, and construct a brand new 18-story 84-unit residential tower. Once completed, there would be 86 hotel rooms, a 15,350-square-foot spa, and bar and restaurant venues with seating for nearly 1,000 people.

Shvo insisted the residential tower is needed to help finance the Raleigh’s renovation and to restore the facades of the South Seas and Richmond hotels to their original circa 1941 form. Shvo warned that delaying the project will make the “economics…. even more complicated.”

“We paid a record price for these properties because we believed in Miami Beach,” Shvo told the board. “…If we continue to sit around not doing anything, at some point it doesn’t make sense to do it.”

Last year, Bilgili Holdings and Deutsche Finance America, forked over $103 million to obtain The Raleigh, $52 million for the South Seas and $64.6 million for the Richmond. In September, Shvo promised to invest another $500 million redeveloping the site.

As part of his redevelopment plans, Shvo pushed for a new ordinance that would allow property owners with more than 115,000 square feet of land between 16th and 21st streets along Collins Avenue to build ground level additions up to 200 feet tall. (Shvo and his partners control 132,816 square feet of land in that area.) The Miami Beach City Commission passed the ordinance a year ago.

The concept of a new high-rise within the densely developed Ocean Drive/Collins Avenue Historic District unnerved some neighboring property owners and preservationists. But by Tuesday’s meeting, many of those critics were appeased by Shvo’s tweaks to the tower’s design and location within the assemblage. Shvo hired one of his project’s opponents: Jean-Francois Lejeune, who previously served on the city’s planning board, proposed removing 35 feet of density from the building’s top two floors, which was included in the latest batch of design changes.

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But Shvo also picked up a new nemesis: Mitchell Cohen, the COO of Westdale Properties, which, along with partners, purchased the neighboring Shelborne Hotel at 1801 Collins Avenue for $120 million in February. Cohen told the historic preservation board that the size of the proposed tower would negatively impact the Shelborne and “overwhelm” the historic district’s predominately low-scale character.

Shvo’s main architect, Kobi Karp, and his attorney, Alfredo Gonzalez, pointed out that there are already more than a dozen buildings on Collins Avenue exceeding 100 feet in height, including the 385-foot tall Setai Hotel at 2001 Collins Avenue.

Board member Nancy Liebman, a former Miami Beach commissioner, said that while she was against the city code legalizing 200-foot-tall towers, she wholeheartedly supported the project.

Jack Finglass, chairman of the historic preservation board, disagreed. “It will be one more step on our march to have Miami Beach become another Sunny Isles and that I’m fairly opposed to,” Finglass said.

Finglass said that the project would have been just as financially viable if Shvo opted to build townhouses or 85-foot tall residential buildings on the site instead of a high-rise. But Shvo wouldn’t budge on making the tower shorter or substantially smaller, insisting that the residential addition makes the overall project possible.

Shvo was amenable to requests made by board members Barry Klein and Scott Needelman to create more setbacks on the top floors or to reposition the tower further west, but pleaded for a positive vote on Tuesday.

“If we don’t get approved today with something, we will be [at the permitting stage] for the next hurricane season,” Shvo said. “Every hurricane season that the [hotels] are boarded up, the buildings deteriorate.”

But Deborah Tackett, the city’s chief of historic preservation, said the developer will need to submit a full set of new plans if he aims to make more design changes, and suggested that the matter be continued until October. Gonzalez, Shvo’s attorney, begged for an earlier date.

“We’ll need all the revised plans no later than Aug.17,” Tackett cautioned. “That’s a lot of work to do. The renderings will require updating.”