Last Monday, the Miami City Preservation Board overwhelmingly voted to reject the application of the Dade Heritage Trust to register the Miami Herald building as a historic structure, and thereby preserving the property rights of the owner who has been fighting the designation in an effort to redevelop the property into a world-class destination resort.
The Preservation Board has determined that the Herald is not historically or architecturally significant, and that redevelopment of the Herald is more important to Miami residents than preserving what many people consider to be an architectural eyesore.
Preservation board member Hugh Ryan agreed that the application had no merit. He seemed exasperated when trying to explain to the few board members who were considering preservation status why the Herald fails each of the statutory qualification requirements. Ryan complained that “it doesn’t stand out as remarkable,” and should be demolished.
Board Member Jorge Kuperman admitted that the application was not about saving an attractive building, but more about preserving the history associated with it, although he failed to provide any convincing evidence of why the Herald qualified for Landmark status.
Genting Berhad, a $45 billion Malaysian energy producer and resort development conglomerate, who paid nearly $500 million for the Miami Herald and surrounding properties, has grand plans for the prized waterfront parcel. Genting architect Bernardo Fort-Brescia, said after the hearing that he was finalizing architectural plans for the Resorts World Miami mix-use development which will include world-class restaurants, shopping and entertainment venues for vacationers and local residents to enjoy. Fort-Brescia said, “the new Resorts World Miami development will be the anchor that draws patrons to the downtown Miami business district and surrounding recreational and educational facilities, and eventually expose Miami as a world leader in international business, trade and leisure activities. The Resort World Miami project will showcase some of the best of what Miami has to offer.”
Genting’s attorney, Vicky Garcia-Toledo expressed how happy her client was with the victory, and grateful to the historic preservation board for taking the time to review the petition and draw the same conclusion as most other Miami residents; that the Miami Herald is not worthy of preservation.
The Dade Heritage Trust can appeal the boards decision within 15 days but the preservationists who applied for the designation expressed their unwillingness to pursue the matter any further.
A historic preservation designation for the Miami Herald would have mandated that any internal and external construction or changes to the look of the property must be approved by the preservation board, thereby drastically reducing the options to operate any kind of viable business from within the functionally obsolete structure.
Rick Gonzalez, a preservationist who helped present the case for preservation said that the Herald would likely qualify for federal listing, but failed to describe exactly how it qualified and then was remiss in explaining to the board that a federal application cannot be approved without the consent of the property owner, which is why the Dade Heritage Trust applied at the local level, which does not require owner consent, over federal or state level recognition that does require owner consent.
Venetia condominium resident Marty Davenport, who lives across the street from the Herald property stated “it is a great victory for Miami residents and especially for those of us who live and who would like to work in downtown Miami. Myself and many of my neighbors are eagerly awaiting the opening of the new resort.” Davenport continued, “It is sad to see that most of the preservation supporters seem to be paid consultants or people from within the preservation ‘industry.’ The room was packed with about 75% of local residents who were all fighting to the best of their ability to be heard, and to tell the board that they want the new development – where they live, in downtown Miami, and luckily the board agreed with us that the Herald is horrible and needs to be replaced with a more fitting example of the Miami culture and lifestyle.”
The Historic Preservation Board vote to reject the application garnered boos, hisses and sneers from preservationists who were upset at the ruling. Acting board chairman Gerald Marston pleaded with the audience to be quiet, so the meeting could continue undisturbed.
Genting’s experts, architect Richard Heisenbottle and historian Ivan Rodriguez were poised, articulate and well versed in the law and meticulously laid out how the Herald does not qualify for historic preservation by any standard. The pair discredited every point in city preservation officer Megan McLaughlin’s 70 page petition, which fell apart under scrutiny. Heisenbottle rejected the application as biased propaganda while Rodriguez called it a work of “creative writing.”
Former six-term Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre gave a passionate plea to the preservation board members to let progress prevail. He then detailed the many varied reasons why the Miami Herald does not meet historic designation criteria.
Ferre pointed out that during his tenure as Mayor of Miami, the Miami City Commission voted to redevelop properties, to create libraries and bay views for the greater good of the society, over the sometimes self-serving objections of preservationists and other benefactors of “preservation.”
Others argued that the redevelopment of the Herald would create a longer, and more open pedestrian walkway, integrated into the Museum Park promenade, to give Miami the seamless waterfront bay-walk that has always been envisioned, but blocked by the Miami Herald.
During the quasi-judicial proceeding, Genting lawyer, Garcia-Toledo claimed that The Dade Heritage Trust had tried to shakedown her clients twice. Once for $5 million and the second attempt was for $10 million.
“We were told that if we offered a $10 million ‘contribution,’ they would take it to the board and they could almost guarantee acceptance,’’ Garcia-Toledo stated. “I don’t know if I was offended more on behalf of my client or as a resident of Miami to know that history has a price.’‘ The preservation board would not address the extortion complaint, and chose to only weigh the merits of the case, independent of any alleged illegal activity by the preservationists.
Dade Heritage Trust CEO Becky Matkov admitted that she did suggest to Genting to establish a fund at the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency for renovation of historic buildings in the area. But she said it “was never quid-pro-quo’’ and did not involve dropping the petition. The “idea” went nowhere, she said.
Before leaving for the evening Matkov ranted to the preservation board and audience members that, “The Dade Heritage Trust board never solicited nor accepted any money, period.’’ She then left the auditorium with her entourage of supporters in tow.