North Beach residents are petitioning against a developer's proposal to build micro-size apartments at the historic Byron Carlyle Theater, which was most recently home to O Cinema.
The petition, which has more than 500 signatures, asks the City of Miami Beach to reject a proposal that would give the theater to a developer to build the apartments. An August 3 letter to the city commission from City Manager Jimmy Morales announced that negotiations for the residential project are moving forward.
After deeming the building unsafe for occupation in 2019, Miami Beach invited bidders to submit proposals to redevelop the Byron Carlyle, which it owns. The city received two responses: one proposing a hotel and another proposing workforce housing.
On July 9, Pacific Star Capital withdrew its proposal to build an 11-story hotel with 160 rooms designed by Kobi Karp.
That leaves a plan to build a project called The Byron, a seven-story building with 114 micro-size residential units. The public-private partnership proposal comes from Menin Hospitality and KGTC, which is led by Matis Cohen, Marisa Galbut, Jared Galbut and Keith Menin.
The bidders own property nearby with plans for development; Cohen is partnering with developer Russell Galbut on a proposed 22-story 72nd and Park development for North Beach's Town Center.
The city has mandated that every bid must contain 10,000 square feet of a cultural component as a public benefit. The Byron's plan includes a cultural center with a performance theater and programs and classes available to the community. The Byron Carlyle building measures approximately 25,250 square feet.
As part of the deal, the city would maintain ownership of the property and enter a long-term ground lease with the developers, who would demolish the theater and build a new seven-story structure.
Throughout the lease, developers would finance, operate, and maintain the building.
The proposal from Menin Hospitality and KGTC states, "In lieu of a percentage of rent, we will provide workforce housing and deed back the cultural center to the City of Miami Beach as well as manage the workforce housing facility for the city."
A lease agreement has not been finalized.
The Byron and Carlyle Twin Theatre, named for the cross streets it lies between opened in 1968, with the premiere of Jackie Gleason's Skidoo. In 2002, the theater shut down and was acquired by the City of Miami Beach from the Wometco chain for $1.7 million. It was reworked into a playhouse where local arts groups such as Stage Door Theatre staged productions.
In 2014, the Byron Carlyle was leased to the independent theater O Cinema, which made some renovations and screened films until 2019, when the city decided not to renew the lease because of the building's deteriorating condition. Necessary repairs were estimated to cost $3.2 million.
The new petition to preserve the theater was created by Ariana Reguant, an administrator of NoBe News, a Facebook page run by three residents who share news about North Beach.
Reguant, who has lived in Miami Beach for eight years, says the general concern among residents is that the city is being handed over to developers one block at a time, and the theater is the last straw.
"When you don't know what else to do, you just scream. In the end, [all we have] is the petition," she says. "We don't want the theater demolished, and we don't want a big, concrete highrise."
Mayor Dan Gelber says city officials are trying to bring more cultural spaces to North Beach, but the cost of repairs at the Byron Carlyle makes executing that vision more difficult.
"Right now, the facility is uninhabitable and would take an excess of $3 million just to repair," he says, "so the reality is that we need to figure out how we're going to activate it in a way that makes sense."
Gelber points out that only one bidder, the team behind The Byron, "was willing to invest in it and maintain the cultural space."
Roger Abramson, a civil-rights activist and former chairman of Miami Beach's convention center advisory board, has lived in North Beach for 30 years and resides a few blocks away from the theater. A former concert promoter, Abramson believes the Byron Carlyle is a landmark that the city should preserve, not hand over to a developer.
"All of a sudden, you've taken a very valuable piece of property, icon of North Beach, where you could've turned it into a wonderful cultural arts or community center," he says.
Former Miami Beach commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez is another supporter of Reguant's petition. She recalls that around four years ago when she was serving on the commission, the theater began to have problems with its bathrooms. Although the issue could have been fixed at that time, nothing was done and the problems continued to get worse. Ultimately, the building was deemed an unsafe structure, and the renovation price inflated.
"We had a plan to keep it in the public domain, to pull Miami Dade College or Florida International University and put a hospitality or culinary school there — we did not want to give it away to a developer to become a private property," Gonzalez says.
Miami Beach spokesperson Melissa Berthier tells New Times the city is still in early negotiations with Menin Hospitality and KGTC. Further details will be discussed at the next meeting of the Finance and Economic Resiliency Committee on September 18.
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