Relegated to the left side of the Miami Herald online today is a story that could pause the march of one mega-casino in its path -- or at least send its architects to bed with the vapors: the Dade Heritage Trust has said it will file an application to have the Miami Herald's orange fortress declared an historic landmark.
That's the same waterfront One Herald Plaza building that owner McClatchy Co. sold for $235 million early this year to Genting Malaysia, a gambling consortium who shortly unveiled site plans for what would be the largest casino in the world (plans that clearly included the demolition of the Herald building). The event kicked off anew both the push to allow a limited number of resort casinos in South Florida, and the snowballing movement to stop them.
The Dade Heritage Trust appears to have a very strong case for historic designation, which if awarded would prevent Genting from altering significantly the exterior of architects Naess and Murphy's Miami Modern-style box, the paper's home since 1963. If the so-called gaming bill also passes in Tallahassee, Genting will have to integrate the original exterior -- and possibly the Herald signage -- into their design.
The Herald building has grown in estimation amid the recent popularization of Miami’s tropical-modern architecture, along with two prominent structures built at the same time: the Bacardi complex on Biscayne Boulevard and the Miami Marine Stadium, both now designated historic. The city has also designated 30 blocks of the Boulevard, which include numerous MiMo buildings, and Miami Beach has created historic districts around its iconic MiMo hotels, including the Fontainebleau and Eden Roc...
To declare a site historic, proponents must show it meets criteria established by the U.S. Department of the Interior, including architectural importance and association with historically significant figures and events. If those requirements are satisfied — and supporters say the Herald building clearly would — under the law, the board and commissioners are supposed to approve designation, several experts said.
Genting, who will have no legal say in whether or not the designation is awarded, immediately responded with a statement declaring the One Herald Plaza "an affront to smart urban planning," but Heritage Trust chair Becky Roper Matkov didn't sound intimidated.
“I’m sure we will have a lot of opposition from monied interests," Matkov told the Herald, who are rent-free tenants in the building until 2013. "That hasn’t stopped us before."
Although a contentious fight between the Trust and Genting is expected, the integration of historic buildings is quite common. Consider the Sears Tower at the Adrienne Arsht Center, just down the street. Constructed in 1929, the Sears, Roebuck building was added to the National Register in 1997. When the Arsht Center was built in 2006, developers decided to incorporate the Sears Tower, the first Art Deco building in the county that even predates those on Ocean Drive.
But One Herald Plaza is no Sears Tower, its detractors say. The Miami New Times voted it Best Architectural Eyesore in 2005:
Clearly it was at the vanguard of a style (American Utilitarian?) that would inspire for decades to come the builders of high schools and inner-city housing projects. This is no Tribune Tower in Chicago, an Art Deco ode to that city's daily paper. Nor is it the stately neo-gothic 43rd Street headquarters of The New York Times. It's not even the Freedom Tower just down the road, for many years the distinctive home of the Miami News. This is just a generic orange splat gobbling up our precious waterfront. But there's hope on the horizon. This past March the Terra Group bought the building and the property for $190 million. Terra hasn't announced plans to raze the structure, at least not anytime soon. But one can always hope.
Dade Heritage Trust, who have been successful protecting the Miami Circle, the Freedom Tower, and the Miami Marine Stadium, clearly disagree. They cite the Herald building as a prime example of Miami Modern Architecture (the building was featured in the book "MiMo: Miami Modern Revealed"), that it has an iconic presence in the city's skyline, and that it is a symbol of the newspaper's considerable influence.
And it's not just One Herald Plaza that concerns the Trust. In October, they wrote a letter to the editor of the Herald, asking whether Genting's impact on surrounding historic sites had been considered. Included in Genting's purchase is the Shrine Building, also known as the Boulevard Shops, and Trinity Cathedral, built in 1925, sits nearby.
On February 7, the city's perseveration board will consider whether the application has any merit, before scheduling a second hearing. Historian Arva Moore Parks, former chairwoman of the city's planning board, told the Herald, "There's just one issue: Does it meet the criteria? Then you have to follow the law."