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Dec 14th
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Written by Erik Bojnansky, BT Senior Writer   
December 2017

After written commitments satisfying neighbors’ concerns, developer presses ahead with renovation of historic Miami Woman’s Club

CClub_1hristopher Hodgkins was standing in the way of a scheme to build a rooftop restaurant at the 91-year-old Miami Woman’s Club and remove decades-old trees from the building’s front lawn to make room for a larger parking lot.

Or at least he once was.

Hodgkins, a resident of the neighboring Grand condominium, is no longer appealing the Heafey Group’s renovation plans for the Miami Woman’s Club at 1737 N. Bayshore Dr., which the City of Miami’s Historic and Environmental Preservation Board (HEPB) approved in June. This means that the Heafey Group won’t have to resubmit plans to the Miami City Commission.

Hodgkins says he dropped his opposition after an August meeting with Carmine Zayoun, vice president of the Heafey Group. During that meeting, Hodgkins says, he received assurances that the trees will be saved, if possible, and that noise emanating from a rooftop restaurant and two cooling towers will be minimized.

“I’m satisfied that they came to the table in good faith and are willing to work with the neighborhood,” says Hodgkins, who is CEO of the company that built the PortMiami tunnel, Miami Access Tunnel Concessionaire.

Zayoun also tells the BT that the meeting did a lot to alleviate Hodgkins’ worries. “We went through the plans on the roof, addressed the cooling towers, and the concerns with the trees,” he recalls. “We got him really comfortable with it.”

But TJ Sabo, another Grand resident, isn’t sure that the Heafey Group can be trusted. After all, Sabo says, this was the same company that illegally used its Woman’s Club property as a commercial parking lot where cars were routinely booted. Sabo also contends that the company is moving too slowly with renovations.

“I don’t think there should be unlimited time to deliver,” Sabo says. “The Miami Woman’s Club used to be something special and important. Now it’s an empty house.”

Built in 1926, the building originally served as a meeting place for the Miami Woman’s Club and as the main library of Miami. Between 1966 and 2006, part of club building was leased to Miami International Fine Arts College.

Club_2

When it became apparent that the building was falling apart, the club’s leadership first tried to sell the building and then embarked on a $12 million renovation project, during which the exterior was fixed and the interior gutted. Yet in spite of a $3.75 million taxpayer grant from the city’s Omni Community Redevelopment Agency, the project ran out of money and the interior was left unfinished.

To complete the renovation, the Miami Woman’s Club decided to partner with a developer. In June 2015, a majority of the Miami Woman’s Club members picked the Heafey Group, a Canadian real estate investment company headed by Pierre Heafey that owns 80,000 square feet of retail, 132 hotel rooms, and around 60 condo units in the DoubleTree Grand complex next door.

Heafey and Zayoun even live in the condo complex part time. Under the deal, the Heafey Group agreed to invest at least $8 million in renovating the building, in exchange for a 90-year lease. Two years later, the Heafey Group presented renovation plans to the HEPB. Those plans included the creation of a ground-floor restaurant with outdoor seating by the bay, a public baywalk, a rooftop restaurant with an outer deck, the placement of two 13-foot-tall chilling towers near the DoubleTree, and the expansion of a paved parking lot that would require the removal of 19 trees.

The HEPB endorsed the plan with a unanimous vote. Chris Hodgkins, however, filed an appeal, fretting about noise from the rooftop restaurant and chilling towers, as well as the removal of trees, some of which predated the existence of the Miami Woman’s Club.

As previously reported by the BT (“A Home with a History,” September 2017), Hodgkins also reported the Heafey Group to code enforcement. Besides the shabby condition of the property, Hodgkins said he found out that the club’s 80-space parking lot was being used as an illegal commercial off-street parking operation for about two years. TJ Sabo tells the BT cars that overstayed for just two minutes were booted. To remove the boot, vehicle owners had to pay $200. “Every other car was booted,” Sabo says. “It was an operation that was quick to penalize.”

After being cited by code enforcement, the parking operation ceased. Zayoun told the BT that his company didn’t know that running a private lot required a license.

Club_3Besides appealing the HEPB decision to the Miami City Commission, Hodgkins planned to hold protests with children holding “Save the Trees” signs. And then Hodgkins talked to Zayoun. It wasn’t their first conversation. Hodgkins once served on the condo board of The DoubleTree Grand, which is reportedly dominated by the Heafey Group’s allies. (Board members include Frank Joseph, the husband of Miami Woman’s Club president Linda Joseph.) Hodgkins also had a brief meeting with Zayoun about the club that went nowhere. But this time Zayoun made commitments in writing in an August 31 letter.

Regarding the trees, Zayoun promised that the project’s mitigation plan “will yield much more tree canopy than we have today, with much healthier trees.” Zayoun also promised that no trees will be callously cut down. “We want to assure you that our certified landscape architect will work to save any tree that can reasonably be saved or moved,” Zayoun wrote.

Zayoun also vowed to “work with our engineers to create some type of structure to mitigate any noise” created by the cooling towers.

As for the rooftop restaurant, Zayoun insisted it would be a “classy tenant who has the track record to demonstrate his intention to entertain a dignified atmosphere.” The rooftop restaurant itself will be more than 80 percent enclosed, Zayoun stated. Amplified music and other sounds will be forbidden after 11:00 p.m., Zayoun added.

Zayoun declines to name the two restaurants that will occupy the Woman’s Club. “I prefer not to disclose that information,” he tells the BT.

When Hurricane Irma lashed Miami on September 10, the property was hit by storm surge, but in spite of the wind and flooding, the building was fine, Zayoun says. The trees? That depends. “Some of them are in bad shape,” he says.

However, he continues, “We have an arborist, and we are going to do our best to replant any trees that have to be removed.” (Zayoun didn’t send an updated tree plan at deadline.)

Hodgkins says he’s confident that the Heafey Group will fulfill its obligations. “I think it can be enforced,” he says, regarding Zayoun’s commitment letter. “We’ll hold them to the letter of the law. They made agreements, and I think they made them in good faith.”

 

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