UPDATED, March 7, 10 a.m.: The demolition of the historic Deauville hotel in Miami Beach is expected to move forward, following a contentious court hearing.
Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Michael Hanzman on Friday denied a motion by the city of Miami Beach that could have forestalled the demolition by requesting additional evaluation of the structure and other measures. The judge ordered there be no further inspections of the property.
The Deauville’s owner, an entity controlled by the Meruelo family, has been locked in litigation with the city of Miami Beach for years, all while the condition of the oceanfront 3.8-acre property at 6701 Collins Avenue continued to deteriorate.
The demolition of the circa-1957 resort was ordered by Miami Beach Building Official Ana Salgueiro in January, after it was determined to be an unsafe structure following a report submitted by the Meruelos late last year.
Due to its historic status, the Deauville would not be able to be knocked down, save for the unsafe structure determination, without prior approval from the Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board.
Preservationists, including the Miami-Dade Design Preservation League, have come forward with pleas to restore the property to its former glory. The league is pursuing its appeal to the Miami-Dade County Board of Rules Appeals, according to attorney David Winker and the league’s executive director, Daniel Ciraldo.
The city sought a court motion that would have allowed it to bring in experts to complete an independent evaluation of the property, and to compel the hotel’s owners to comply with city code seeking an after-the-fact certificate of appropriateness.
“This is a historical building in a historical section of town,” said attorney Jeffrey Schneider, a managing partner at Levine Kellogg Lehman Schneider + Grossman LLP who is representing the city of Miami Beach. “This is a crown jewel in Miami Beach. It is not asking a lot to follow the process.”
But Hanzman, who is also overseeing the Surfside condo collapse litigation, wasn’t having any of it at the hearing at the Dade County Courthouse.
“This court is not ordering any further inspection whatsoever, and it’s not ordering this defendant to do anything other than it already has, which is submit a full and complete demolition permit,” Hanzman said. “Now, if the city elects to not issue a building permit, it will do so at its own risk and peril. But I am not ordering any further inspection of the hotel.”
Schneider argued that the building official’s inspection in January was a peer review of the Deauville owner’s report, and that the Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board is entitled to request the city conduct an independent evaluation of the property.
“You’re telling this court that its own building inspector did not have the requisite expertise to determine whether or not this is an unsafe structure?” Hanzman asked.
“No, she verified the condition of the building as reported by the structural report,” Schneider replied.
At one point, Hanzman said the city of Miami Beach was “bending over backwards like a pretzel,” and that he found it very unlikely Miami Beach commissioners would spend a night at the Deauville.
“My orders are not being complied with, and I don’t know who’s playing games here and what’s going on, but it seems to me you’re trying to backtrack your own building official’s clear and unequivocal assessment that is is an unsafe structure that needs to come down,” Hanzman said.
Deauville Associates LLC, a company owned and controlled by Belinda and Richard Meruelo, acquired the hotel in 2004 for just $4 million, but the property is now believed to be worth up to hundreds of millions of dollars if the owners sell it, depending on what could be built on the site.
The Deauville’s attorneys declined to comment on their client’s plans for the property following its demolition.
During Friday’s hearing, Deauville owner Richard Meruelo sat in the back of the courtroom, only saying “Wow” in response to the city’s argument.
The Deauville’s owners would still have to go before the Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board to gain approval for what they propose to replace the structure, Ciraldo said. He added that the Miami Dade Preservation League’s pending appeal “may be the only thing standing in the way of its demolition right now.”
At a meeting in January, historic preservation board members who discussed the planned demolition warned it would set a dangerous precedent for owners of historic properties who may want to force demolitions in situations where they would otherwise have to preserve architecturally significant structures.
“I appreciate the fact that the Beatles played in this hotel in 1964,” Hanzman said, referring to the Beatles’ famous performance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
“Maybe Paul McCartney stayed in the Champlain towers,” he added, referring to the Surfside building that collapsed in June, killing 98 people. “But people deserve to be safe.”