Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Bacardi Headquarters Headed for Historic status

Good news! The beloved Bacardi mural-adorned building is closer to receiving historic designation. Below is the article from the Miami Herald dated today, May 6. To read the first article announcing Bacardi's decision to relocate its headquarters to Coral Gables, click here.

Miami's preservation board voted unanimously Tuesday to pursue historic designation for the Bacardi USA headquarters on Biscayne Boulevard, setting the scene for a final decision this fall that could protect the landmark Modernist buildings in perpetuity.

The board turned down a request from company attorneys for an indefinite postponement of the vote, which authorizes the city's preservation office to embark on an in-depth analysis of the buildings' historic and architectural merits.

But board members agreed to give Bacardi plenty of time to conduct a review of its own, including structural evaluations, cost estimates for renovations and possible new uses for the buildings. Bacardi, which is moving its U.S. headquarters to Coral Gables, plans to vacate the Biscayne Boulevard buildings later this year.

''This is like considering the designation of the Empire State Building, it's that important for us,'' said board member Miguel Seco, urging a patient and collaborative effort to preserve the buildings.

Speaking publicly for the first time, members of the family that controls privately held Bacardi said they supported preservation of the famous blue-tiled tower and its square annex, widely considered among the finest architectural designs of the 1960s and 1970s in Miami.

''Most of the (Bacardi) board members I have spoken to are in favor of preserving the building,'' Marta Nielsen Fernandez, daughter of a former Bacardi chairman who worked in the headquarters for three decades, told preservation board members. ``They do not want it destroyed.''

Bacardi's attorneys said the company has begun meeting with preservationists to explore ideas for re-use as well as ways to help finance renovation of the aging 10-story tower and its annex, including possible state and federal preservation tax incentives.

''We will work together to come up with something everyone will be happy with,'' said Stanley Price, an attorney for Bacardi. ``We do not have a wrecking ball out.''


But Price pleaded for time, pledging not to touch the buildings until the preservation board makes its final determination. City law imposes a 120-day freeze on demolition or alterations of buildings under consideration for historic designation, but Bacardi said it would honor an extended moratorium until the final vote takes place.

Some board members and preservationists in the audience objected to granting Bacardi an open-ended deferral, however. They cited the demolition this week of the original 1912 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church building, the oldest standing church building in Miami, which had not been designated as historic.

The board set its final Bacardi vote for September after city preservation officer Ellen Uguccioni assured board members the Bacardi buildings have been flagged in city zoning, building and planning department computers so that no work or demolition permits could be authorized in the interim.

She also stressed there is no threat to the buildings since the company continues to occupy them.


Uguccioni said a preliminary study suggests the Bacardi buildings, though short of the standard 50-year age threshold for designation, merit protection because of their extraordinary architectural quality.

The tower was built in 1963, and the annex, which is covered in stained glass, a decade later, but Uguccioni said they function as an ensemble.

The tower -- which combines the severe International Style with bold tropical decoration -- in particular raised the bar for modern architecture in Miami, she said.

''Bacardi built this absolutely amazing building that was unlike anything else here in Miami,'' she said.