Miami Beach orders condo evacuation due to structural concerns

A resident crosses the street carrying bags outside the Port Royale Condominium at 6969 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, after tenants were told to evacuate by 7 p.m. due to structural concerns on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022.

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The city of Miami Beach ordered residents of a 164-unit condo tower to evacuate the building Thursday after engineers found significant damage to a critical structural beam in the parking garage.

Miami Beach spokesperson Melissa Berthier said around 4 p.m. Thursday that the city planned to post an unsafe structure notice and order residents of the Port Royale Condominium at 6969 Collins Ave., to vacate the 14-story building immediately.

Shortly before 5 p.m., the condo board sent residents a mandatory notice to vacate the premises by 7 p.m. As that hour approached, residents scrambled to gather their belongings, load up their cars and arrange for temporary housing.

“I got here at like 5:15 and everybody was scrambling. I was super confused,” said Katie, 27, a renter who asked only to be identified by her first name.

She quickly packed up enough to last her two weeks and said she planned to drive to her parents’ house in Palm Beach County.

“Luckily I have a place to stay, but it’s definitely not ideal. I work in Miami,” she said.

Residents gather outside the Port Royale Condominium located at 6969 Collins Ave, Miami Beach, after they were told to evacuate by 7 p.m. due to structural concerns on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022. Alie Skowronski [email protected]

Engineers are recommending that additional “shoring” — a method of reinforcing areas that need repair — be installed in the garage to support the damaged beam. They say they expect it to be in place within 10 days.

But it wasn’t immediately clear when residents will be allowed to return.

Several tenants said they planned to stay with friends nearby. Others made hotel arrangements.

“A lot of people have lived here for a very long time,” said Gladys Martin, 78, who planned to stay at a friend’s house down the street.

Martin said she wasn’t surprised by the news, given the building’s general appearance compared to other, more modern structures in the area.

“Look at this building,” she said. “Look at the others.”

Under a Miami-Dade County ordinance passed after the June 2021 Champlain Towers South collapse in Surfside, building owners are required to provide up to three months of housing and associated costs if officials determine their building was unsafe as a result of negligent maintenance.

Berthier, the city spokesperson, did not immediately respond to an inquiry about what costs are being covered for Port Royale tenants staying in hotels. Representatives for the condo board also could not be reached for comment.

As residents left the building Thursday evening, representatives from the city’s Housing and Community Services department spoke with them about their housing situations.

Miami Beach police officers entered the building shortly after 7 p.m. to ensure residents were complying with the evacuation order.

A woman waits with her luggage outside the evacuated Port Royale Condominium located at 6969 Collins Ave. on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022. Alie Skowronski [email protected]

‘Please take this advice seriously’

In a letter Thursday to Miami Beach building official Ana Salgueiro, engineers from Hialeah-based Inspection Engineers Inc., said they told the condo board that everyone in the building should “evacuate immediately.”

The damaged concrete beam “might support the entire building structure,” the engineers noted, though they said that conclusion was based on visual observations and that they do not have original calculations or designs.

The city’s evacuation order came just hours after city inspectors issued a violation notice at the building but refrained from ordering an evacuation. Berthier said the engineering firm had informed the city of its concerns via phone but had not yet filed a formal report. The city ordered a report to be filed within 24 hours.

The condo board had sent an email to unit owners and renters Wednesday evening, informing them that the engineers were “recommending vacating the premises” but not ordering anyone to leave.

In a Wednesday letter to the Port Royale Condominium board, Inspection Engineers Inc., said it had observed “continuous deterioration” of a “main beam” that supports the 51-year-old building’s structure in the third-level mezzanine of the parking garage.

“Please take this advice seriously,” the engineering firm’s letter said. “We are not trying to scare anybody, but as your engineer of record we must take all precautions seriously.”

Douglas Marcado, the president of Inspection Engineers, told the Miami Herald it was a “hard decision” to recommend evacuation, which he called a “precautionary measure.”

“We take this very seriously,” he said. “Nobody wants to throw people out of buildings.”

The Port Royale Condominium at 6969 Collins Ave. Alie Skowronski [email protected]

The firm said it is now working with a shoring expert to provide calculations and design to obtain a permit from the city. The new shoring should be installed within 10 days, engineers Arshad Viqar and Robert Guzman said, after which engineers will inspect the building “to allow the unit owners to return to their apartments.”

Engineers noticed the damage while they were overseeing repairs to the garage that began about a month ago, according to the Inspection Engineers Inc., report. The firm said it found approximately half an inch of “deflection,” or movement, from the original position of one of the main beams that had already been identified as needing repairs. In addition, an existing crack that was set to be repaired had expanded.

These images are from an engineering inspection of the Port Royale condo tower at 6969 Collins Ave., in Miami Beach. Inspection Engineers Inc.

The evacuation follows an earlier safety scare at the building last July, just weeks after the Champlain Towers South collapse.

As local building departments across South Florida were scrambling to evaluate the structural integrity of large buildings — and especially beachfront condos — the Port Royale received an unsafe structure notice from the city of Miami Beach that pointed to structural deterioration and concrete spalling, including in the garage.

Shoring was installed and residents were ultimately allowed to stay.

Port Royale condo owner Marash Markaj took this photo of the shoring that was done July 14, 2021, to support an area that needed concrete repairs in the building’s basement garage. Marash Markaj Provided to the Herald

Now, the repairs needed on the garage’s main beam are “much more complicated than originally expected,” Inspection Engineers said in a Tuesday letter to the condo board. The shoring needed to secure it will be “very expensive,” the letter said.

Records show the Port Royale building went through a lengthy 40-year recertification process that was completed in 2014. It is now undergoing repairs as part of its 50-year recertification as required by Miami-Dade County.

This story was originally published October 27, 2022 5:23 PM.

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Aaron Leibowitz covers the city of Miami Beach for the Miami Herald. He was previously a municipal government reporter covering cities around Miami-Dade County.

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