The Miami Beach City Commission on Wednesday rejected a proposal by Menin Hospitality and KGTC, LLC to buy the city-owned Byron Carlyle Theater in North Beach and replace it with a mixed-use project up to 125 feet tall, with a 12,000-square-foot cultural center, 9,000 square feet of retail, and, possibly short-term rentals.
The commission’s 5-to-1 vote came after 20 residents spoke out against the project, including North Beach activist Ariana Hernandez-Reguant, who said she collected 1,198 online signatures to save the Byron Carlyle, a 28,000-square-foot movie theater built in 1968.
“This is settled as far as the neighborhood is concerned. We do not want to sell the land for a building with short-term rentals,” Hernandez-Reguant, a cultural anthropologist, told the commission.
The vote ends a two-year-quest by the city of Miami Beach to partner with a private developer to replace the Byron Carlyle with a new mixed-use development that would include a “cultural component.” The theater is within North Beach Town Center, a 10-block sector that is slated to be redeveloped after voters approved a referendum to up-zone the area more than three years ago.
The city of Miami Beach bought the Byron Carlyle in 2001. In January 2019, the city submitted a request for proposals for developers to redevelop the property which, later that same year, was declared an unsafe structure. Two development teams submitted proposals: Pacific Star Capital LLC and Menin Hospitality/KGTC, LLC.
But by August, Aria Mehrabi’s Pacific Star Capital, which is pursuing a Target-anchored retail project elsewhere within North Beach Town Center, dropped its bid to redevelop Byron Carlyle.
That left the city to negotiate with Menin Hospitality, a nightlife and hotel company headed by Jared Galbut and Keith Menin, and KGTC, LLC, a company headed by Matis Cohen and Marisa Galbut that is also building a 22-story micro-unit apartment building in North Beach Town Center. Russell Galbut, a principal of Crescent Heights, Jared Galbut and Keith Menin’s uncle and Marisa Galbut’s father.
In December, Menin Hospitality and KGTC presented a proposal to build 151 workforce units, a 10,500-square-foot cultural center, and 9,000 square feet of retail. In the proposal, the developer would give the city $1 a year for 99 years and a $1.5 million escrow payment. Plus, the developer demanded that the city pay for demolition costs over $100,000 and pay for up to $350,000 in remediation costs. The developers would keep the rent collected from the apartments and retail. The commission rejected that proposal, and asked that a new concept be brought back in February.
In the new proposal, the development team would pay $2 million for the city-owned property and throw in the construction of a 12,000-square-foot shell of a cultural center that would be given to Miami Beach for free. However, instead of 151 workforce units, the development team demanded some flexibility. That included being allowed to build short-term rentals. The proposal also sought commercial uses within the complex that included offices, retail, outdoor cafes, restaurants and alcohol serving establishments. And while the original plan envisioned no parking, the new proposal stated that the developers would try to provide about 30 parking spaces “within a reasonable walking distance of the project,” according to a Miami Beach report.
Cohen said the new proposal proved his team’s commitment to improving North Beach. “We stayed true to the course,” he told commissioners. “We worked diligently with staff and improved the city benefits above and beyond what the bid [originally] called for.”.
Eric Carpenter, Miami Beach’s assistant city manager, recommended that the city approve the deal and allow the administration to continue negotiating with the developers. That vote would require a simple majority. However, because an outright purchase of the land was not included in the original RFP, Carpenter said the deal’s final approval would need to be approved at a future date by six out of Miami Beach’s seven elected officials.
Commissioners Ricky Arriola and David Richardson said they were in favor of the new proposal. “I think this is a good proposal before us now,” Richardson said. “Not perfect but good.”
Arriola predicted that if the city didn’t continue negotiating with Menin Hospitality and KGTC, the Byron Carlyle would remain a slowly deteriorating shell. “I have a lot of fear that if we do not do this deal, it may stay empty for a long time,” Arriola said.
However, more than a dozen residents spoke out against the deal, including two former Miami Beach commissioners, Kristen Rosen Gonzalez and Nancy Liebman, both of whom spoke in favor of the city keeping and rebuilding the theater.
Gonzalez noted that the whole idea of the RFP was for the city to persuade a developer to build a new theater for the community. “How did we get to the offer of a grey shell with no parking and  transient units?” she asked. “We are being worn down as a community.”
Some residents declared that the city shouldn’t trust the development team, noting that Russell Galbut and Menin Hospitality had been sued by Miami Beach condo associations at the Shelborne South Beach, Bentley Bay, and Mondrian South Beach. “These developers have been sued three times and not from other parts of the country, but from this community,” said Larry Shafer.
The majority of the commission was also skeptical of the proposal. Commissioner Michael Gongora said the city “lost focus” of its original intent, while commissioner Micky Steinberg said the city “veered off” its original path. Commissioner Mark Samuelian said that the city “should not put any more time into this proposal” and instead “have a real discussion on how we can have a world-class cultural center” in North Beach.
Mayor Dan Gelber said the proposal before the city was exactly what should have been expected since Miami Beach didn’t put aside the $6 million to $11 million needed to renovate or replace the Byron Carlyle. But Gelber announced he would vote against the project since there was no way it would be able to get the six affirmative votes necessary to be ultimately approved. “We have pulled this thread to the end,” Gelber said.
Arriola didn’t even stay logged on for the vote. “Thanks for wasting my time. Good night,” the commissioner declared prior to logging off.
When the vote was called, only Richardson voted in favor of continued negotiations. Gelber and the four remaining commissioners voted against.