Miami Beach approved a redevelopment deal that will preserve the 65-year-old waterfront International Inn in North Beach while allowing the owner the right to build an 80-foot-tall, or eight-story addition.
Commissioners approved the historic designation and zoning amendment for the International Inn at 2301 Normandy Isle on first reading Wednesday afternoon. The ordinance will come back for a final vote on Feb. 10.
Nancy Liebman, a former Miami Beach commissioner and board member of the Miami Design Preservation League, was among several preservationists who encouraged the deal, which would ensure that the International Inn would be designated historic. Under such a designation, applications for demolition or significant alteration must be approved by the city’s historic preservation board or, in the case of an appeal, the city commission.
The fate of the International Inn has been discussed for years. At the request of the Miami Design Preservation League, the city’s historic preservation board directed city staff to look into the feasibility of designating the International Inn historic in May 2017, establishing a temporary moratorium on any demolition on the site.
A deal was later worked out with International Inn owner Belsa Tsay. In exchange for Tsay not opposing the historic designation, the city would allow for the construction of an 80-foot-tall addition. Under the site’s current zoning, a new structure would be limited to a 50 feet in height, and could only be a residential building with 51 units.
Besides additional height, since November, zoning changes would allow new hotels on historically designated, RM-1 zoned properties of over 30,000 square feet north of Normandy Drive. The International Inn sits on a property that is 37,292 square feet.
The amended zoning would also allow the International Inn to have restaurants that serve alcoholic beverages, and to seek approval for outdoor entertainment performances and an outdoor bar counter between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. The owner can also provide off-site parking in a mile radius of International Inn, so long as it is within Miami Beach’s city limits.
Built in 1956, the 71-room hotel was designed by Melvin Grossman, a renowned post-World War II architect who designed such Miami Beach buildings as the Deauville, the Seville Hotel, and the Doral Beach Hotel. Originally known as the Carnival Motel, the building was later renamed the International Inn Motel in 1963. The “Motel” moniker was later removed.
A June 2019 report from the city’s planning department stated that the International Inn displayed all the characteristics of a significant Miami Modern, or MiMo, structure, an architectural style spanning from 1945 to the mid-1960s. It was even featured in a 2002 exhibit on mid-century modern architecture by the Municipal Art Society’s Urban Center in New York.
Nevertheless, the hotel later became infamous for crime and calls to police. In September 2019, commissioners stalled approval of the zoning deal following reports of criminal activity at the hotel, including prostitution, according to a published report from RE Miami Beach.
According to the city manager’s report to the mayor and commission, there hasn’t been any significant code violations at International Inn since 2016. Calls for police included a Baker Act for someone who left the inn without clothes in October, and complaints of a large party on Dec. 5 from North Bay Village residents. A man was also arrested for dealing drugs on the property Dec. 5.
Besides those events, the police department has seen a “marked improvement” in the operation of the International Inn over the last two years, the city manager’s report stated, adding that the management has implemented “permanent security enhancements,” including security cameras, hiring security and requiring that guests have proper identification.