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Holocaust memorial miami beach expansion proposed

Miami Beach’s iconic memorial to the Holocaust could become even more powerful with new interactive and educational experiences under a proposal for a modest expansion of the site in the City’s Convention Center District. The Greater Miami Jewish Federation, operators of the memorial, is working with the University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation to bring their Dimensions in Testimony project to the new space. The project, featured on 60 Minutes, utilizes advanced technology to enable visitors to ask questions and get real-time responses from pre-recorded video interviews with Holocaust survivors.

Mayor Dan Gelber announced the proposed expansion in his State of the City Address in February. This week, the City Commission’s Finance and Economic Resilience Committee approved draft terms of a lease extension that would allow for construction of an approximately 7,000 sq. ft. educational center on the parking lot adjacent to the memorial at 19th and Meridian.

The memorial is currently operating under a 99-year lease agreement that started in January 2000. The lease extension would be for 21 years and adds the city-owned lot to the lease. Construction, operations, and programming would all be done by the Federation with no costs to be borne by the City.

Assistant City Manager Eric Carpenter told the Finance Committee the City has “had an exceptional relationship with [the Federation] the past 21 years.” He noted more than 100,000 people and 11,000 students from South Florida visited the memorial in 2019 but, because the memorial lacks interior space for exhibits and other educational programming, “a lot of people only come to this memorial once.”

Norman Braman, founding Chair of the Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach, said a visit to the Dimensions in Testimony exhibit at the Holocaust Memorial in Houston, Texas “really opened up our eyes to the possibilities of an expansion of our memorial.”

“It’s no secret that the age of intolerance and hate has emerged throughout the United States and the memorial in Houston, Texas was geared to the entire community and uses the examples of the Holocaust to warn what could happen when hate and intolerance overcome a country, a nation, and a community,” Braman said. “We decided to utilize the talents of the Shoah Foundation in a way to broaden the impact of the memorial on an individual-to-individual basis.”

Architect Ray Fort of Arquitectonica presented conceptual plans to the Finance Committee. “The design of it was intended to not compete with the memorial itself,” Fort said. The proposed building includes a series of circular forms in keeping with the circular area around the approximately 51-ft tall hand sculpture. It would be a single-story structure with a reception area, two exhibition spaces, and a flex classroom which may open up to the outdoors.

“One of the important items here was to preserve the importance of the existing memorial and that this building does not overpower it but actually rather just complement it,” Fort said.

The siting of the “forms” is also designed to be “sensitive to mature landscaping” that surrounds the memorial, Fort said. Rather than taking parking away, the plan ends up adding two parking spaces to the 30 that already exist on the lot to be used for the new structure by reducing the “very wide medians that are on 19th Street” to allow for more on-street parking. There is no plan to demolish any of the existing buildings currently on the site. The existing easement for access to the adjacent Botanical Gardens would be preserved. 

The lease terms now go to the City Commission which will have two readings and a public hearing. If approved by the Commission, the lease will be placed on the November ballot, requiring 60 percent voter approval.

As part of the lease approval, Commissioners will also have to approve the concept designs (below). If approved by voters, the design would then need to be approved by the Design Review Board.

The staff memo and proposed lease terms presented to the Finance Committee are here.

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