Miami Beach’s iconic Lincoln Road outdoor mall finally should get much-needed renovations, although some area residents are unhappy they will come with a new nearby condo building.
Designed by architect Morris Lapidus — the same visionary behind the Fontainebleau Miami Beach — Lincoln Road today looks nearly the same as it did since its last major makeover in 1960. The mall starts on Alton Road and runs for six blocks east before hitting the beachfront and the adjacent Ritz-Carlton South Beach hotel and condominium Decoplage.
Although many agree the shopping promenade has seen better days, it’s proven difficult in recent years to forge a consensus agreement on improvements. And new retailers and restaurants continue to open, including five slated to make their debuts by the end of October.
Developers and the city had proposed two plans to draw more people to the area, but they haven’t panned out. One of them, a James Corner Field streetscape plan, has been on pause for years since first being discussed in 2015. Last year, Miami Beach voters rejected another plan to redevelop several surface parking lots adjacent to the mall into offices and retail stores.
Now, things are looking better for the mall, under a new deal. The Kanavos, Lowenstein, and Ben-Josef families, the owners of the South Beach hotels the Ritz-Carlton at 1 Lincoln Road and Sagamore at 1671 Collins Ave., received support from the city’s Historic Preservation Board on Tuesday to build a condominium behind the Ritz-Carlton South Beach. That support included a carrot for the community — money to improve a portion of Lincoln Road.
Through a public-private partnership between the three families and the city, renovations will be coming to the last three eastern blocks of the mall closest to the beach. They include a pavilion, trees, flowers, and the “Lapidus Arch,” a monument architect Lapidus originally wanted to install at the intersection where Lincoln Road meets the beach.
Preservationists and certain residents aren’t happy improvements to the shopping mall will come with a 15-story condo building behind the Ritz-Carlton. That, they said, will pose a threat to South Beach’s rapidly changing skyline. Most members of the city’s Historic Preservation Board disagreed Tuesday.
“This team has proposed a strong, bold vision. I would even say it’s innovative. I know we’re not supposed to talk about Lincoln Road. I don’t view it that way. I think that’s how a city evolves,” said Brian Ehrlich, a member of the city of Miami Beach’s Historic Preservation Board. “It’s unfortunate the (condo) neighbors will have a reality different than it is today, but in the interest of evolution and moving forward this feels right to me.”
The developer families consented to a minor change to the condo building, a 15-foot setback on the western side to allow for more space for pedestrians on the adjacent beach walk. Designed by well-regarded architect Kobi Karp, the building would have 30 residences, carrying price tags of at least $1 million.
It is the second attempt for the hotel owners to land a condo development on their site. Back in 2021, they had submitted plans for a larger 17-story condo project and no offer to help pay for Lincoln Road improvements.
The public-private partnership consists of $12 million for the first phase of upgrading Lincoln Road — a park, arch, and renovated streets on the 100 block. The Kanavos, Lowenstein, and Ben-Josef families will together contribute $4 million, the city will put in $4 million, and they hope to get $4 million from the state. The state, however, has yet to commit to providing the money. Also, the families haven’t committed funds to renovate the 200 and 300 blocks of Lincoln Road.
After Tuesday’s preservation board vote, Peter Kanavos, co-owner of the Ritz-Carlton and Sagamore South Beach, told the Miami Herald, “I feel good about it. The board fully considered all of the different angles.”
Now, the families plan to apply for permits. The process will likely take six months, Kanavos said. After that, construction will begin on the condo development by early 2025. The condo project will be in full swing before the Lincoln Road improvements, since the families will depend on condo sales to generate money to improve the mall.
Opponents raised concerns Tuesday, and in earlier interviews, about the changing South Beach skyline. Developer Michael Shvo is building a condo behind The Raleigh, and the Witkoff Group in partnership with Monroe Capital are also rolling out a condo behind another iconic hotel, the Shore Club.
“Our fear is that we’re not going to be Miami Beach. We’re going to be more like Sunny Isles Beach,” said Daniel Ciraldo, executive director of the Miami Design Preservation League. The group promotes protection and public appreciation of the Beach’s historic architecture.
The skyline means a lot to residents like Anne Blume, an Illinois transplant. She started visiting South Beach in 2003. It was the perfect escape and distance for the retired Chicago lawyer who could leave her office during lunchtime on a Thursday and be in town for a late dinner that same day. She now lives in the beachfront Decoplage condo building at 100 Lincoln Road.
“If you’re looking at these iconic hotels — the Ritz-Carlton, Sagamore, Delano (Beach Club) — it’s a postcard. It’s part of Art Deco history. It is long revered,” Blume said. “This tower is out of scale. It is not consistent with the neighborhood.”
While some of her neighbors’ views would be obstructed, Blume’s would remain the same.
Some nearby businesses worry, too, about the effects the new condo construction will have on them, including Stephane Mercier, general manager of the National Hotel Miami Beach at 1677 Collins Ave. He’s concerned the new condo building when built behind the Ritz-Carlton will cast a shadow over the National Hotel’s pool, possibly reducing overnight bookings.
“What is uncommon is to connect this little portion of Lincoln Road to a tower that would change what makes Miami Beach, Miami Beach,” Mercier said.
Other residents and nearby business owners support the package of a condo building and Lincoln Road improvements. A new condo seems like a small price to pay for a nicer, safer Lincoln Road, said part-time Decoplage resident Carl Bender. Bender often visits Miami Beach from Washington, D.C. with his family and said he fears walking down parts of Lincoln Road at times due to the homeless population.
“You’re walking into a store or restaurant and they will verbally assault you,” Bender said. “When you’re with your child in a stroller it hits you twice as a hard. You see another store boarded up or it didn’t make it.”