Preservationists want Miami Herald's building to receive historic status

A leading preservation group says it will submit an application to the city of Miami to have The Miami Herald’s bay-front building designated a protected landmark, setting the stage for intense debate over the structure’s architectural and historic value as well as the effect that saving it would have on a blueprint for a $3.8 billion casino resort on the site.

Some experts in preservation say Dade Heritage Trust — the group behind successful efforts to save the ancient Miami Circle, the 1925 Freedom Tower and the modernist Miami Marine Stadium — has a strong case for the Herald building’s designation by the city Historic and Environmental Preservation Board, which has authority to confer legal safeguards on meritorious places and buildings.

But the designation could throw a monkey wrench into plans unveiled recently by the Genting group — which paid $235 million for the Herald building and 10 acres of surrounding parking lots — to demolish the 1963 structure and erect a massive gaming resort on the land if the Legislature approves a casino bill.

Historic designation — which under longstanding law can be imposed regardless of Genting’s wishes — would bar demolition of the building or significant alteration of its exterior, possibly including the neon sign spelling out the newspaper’s name, though it would allow additions.

Designation could also cover the building’s soaring lobby if it’s considered integral to its architectural merit.

Supporters of designation say they expect the application will prove highly contentious, but argue the building’s distinction as an exemplar of Miami Modern architecture (dubbed MiMo), its iconic presence for five decades at the foot of the MacArthur Causeway and the extensive influence of the newspaper and its leaders on Miami’s history make it a slam-dunk case on the merits.

“It may be an uphill a battle, but it’s a worthwhile undertaking,’’ said Heritage Trust chief executive Becky Roper Matkov after the group’s board voted to proceed with the application, which is now being drafted. “I’m sure we will have a lot of opposition from monied interests. That hasn’t stopped us before.’’

In a statement to The Herald, Christian Goode, president of Genting’s Resorts World Miami subsidiary, called the Herald building “an affront to smart urban planning’’ because it blocks views of and public access to Biscayne Bay. Genting’s plans call instead for a wide public baywalk.

“Any impacts derived from preserving the Herald building are far outweighed by the benefits that a new master-planned development will bring to the Omni neighborhood, including activating the downtown waterfront, employing tens of thousands of Floridians, generating meaningful tax revenue and adding value to a depressed area,’’ Goode’s statement said.

The newspaper, which as part of the Genting sale will occupy the building until 2013 rent-free, has no say in the site’s redevelopment or historic designation of the structure.

The Trust’s application would receive preliminary consideration from the city’s preservation board Feb. 7. If the board votes to take it up, the proposal would be slated for a second, in-depth hearing. Board decisions can be appealed to the city commission, and further challenges would go to state courts.

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