In its heyday, the Deauville resort in Miami Beach was known for hosting performances from stars like the Beatles. Built in 1957 in the post-war modern architecture style locally dubbed “Miami Modern”, for many people it became an iconic part of the oceanfront skyline.
But in recent years the hotel has been better known for its demise. It was shuttered after an electrical fire in 2017, before Hurricane Irma caused even more damage. A legal battle with the city over its upkeep ended with the building being deemed unsafe to use.
Now, days away from demolition, the site’s future hangs on the outcome of a local referendum on the Nov. 8 ballot— and some are worried a local billionaire’s dollars could influence the outcome.
Last week, a yellow bus parked outside of the entrance to the North Beach Bandshell, just three blocks north of the Deauville. Seniors who live in northern Miami Beach got off, many using walkers. They would be treated to pastelitos and salsa music, but first, they heard from Mayor Dan Gelber.
“Yo soy un hombre sincero,” he sang. That’s the verse of one of Cuba’s most famous songs, adapted from the poetry of José Martí. “I’m an honest man,” the lyrics say. Then he got to his main message and asked his audience to repeat with him.
“Vota si, vota si, vota si,” he said.
He gave the seniors few details as he urged them to vote “yes” on referendum one.
A majority vote on this question on the ballot for Miami Beach residents would allow a luxury condo building and 5-star hotel to be built on the Deauville property. If it passes, commissioners would have to approve the rezoning that would allow the buildings to go up.
The city would also enter a development agreement with Stephen Ross, a real estate developer and owner of the Miami Dolphins. If the plan goes through, he’d buy the property from the family that currently owns it.
Ross grew up in North Beach, a part of Miami Beach he said needs the investment.
“It’s almost like the forgotten neighborhood,” he told WLRN, stepping outside the Bandshell when the salsa got too loud. “[The development project] is something I think that can rejuvenate the whole area.”
He’s hired world-renowned architect Frank Gehry to design the project.
Ross also told WLRN that he rejects the historic designation of the Deauville, granted in 2004. He said that, instead, he’s considered the vacant building as a drain on this neighborhood.
“We have to worry about the next generation of people,” he added. “We have to build the next landmark buildings during our lifetimes.”
To build that, he’s spent a lot of money to get this “yes” vote. A political committee called “Yes for a Safe and Strong Future” has received $1,050,000 from TRCLP — the real estate firm called The Related Companies, L.P., which Ross chairs. Miami Beach mailboxes have received a “vote yes” mailer almost everyday. The city is full of campaign signs.
That’s a lot of free speech and we don’t have quite that ability to get the word out.
Daniel Ciraldo, of the Miami Design Preservation League, on Stephen Ross’ investment in referendum one
Billionaires have the means to sway people, said Daniel Ciraldo, the executive director of the Miami Design Preservation League. The organization has fought to save historic buildings, including the Deauville, since 1976.
“A lot of people are very swooned over by them, but what are we doing if we open ourselves up to that sort of regime?” Ciraldo said.
He worries the Deauville’s recent history may set a precedent of demolition by neglect. That, he added, plus a lot of money, will lead to zoning changes that threaten historic architecture in Miami Beach.
“Thankfully, in the nineties, Miami Beach residents implemented a charter amendment called “Save Miami Beach”, which limits any increase in total square footage rights,” he said. “That cannot happen unless the voters approve it.”
That’s why the Deauville question is on the ballot this election. Ciraldo points to the more than $1 million Ross has spent on it.
“That’s a lot of free speech and we don’t have quite that ability to get the word out,” he continued.
Ultimately, the question will be decided on Nov. 8, which is Election Day. Regardless of the outcome, what remains of the Deauville will be imploded on Nov. 13.