Portrait of a Preservationist – a Tribute to Nancy Liebman

2016 was Nancy Liebman’s last year serving on the Board of the MiMo Biscayne Association.   This year, she returns to her preservationist roots in Miami Beach.  As MBA begins its first year without her, we would like to record our thanks and pay tribute to this remarkable woman whose guiding presence has so shaped its 10-year history.

When the MiMo Biscayne Association was formed in 2007, Nancy became a founding member. She brought with her a set of stellar credentials:  from 1993 through 2001 she had served as a Miami Beach City Commissioner; prior to that she had served as Executive Director of the Miami Design Preservation League; and after leaving office as Miami Beach City Commissioner, she became a Trustee of Dade Heritage Trust.

How did a native of Jersey City, New Jersey, come to have such a tremendous impact on preserving South Florida’s unique architectural heritage for future generations?

It all began in 1959, when Nancy and her husband Norman moved to Miami for what they thought would just be a year, while he completed his medical residency. Coincidentally, many of the refugees arriving in Miami following the end of the Cuban Revolution also only planned to stay about that long. “Fast-forward,” says Nancy, “and we’re all still here.”

Her first brush with historic preservation came in 1978, when, as a Miami Beach PTA president, Nancy became involved in a fight to protect the Leroy D. Feinberg Elementary School in South Beach from demolition. Saving that architecturally notable old school put her in contact with Barbara Capitman, founder of the Miami Design Preservation League.  Nancy joined MDPL and became fascinated by the pioneering movement to preserve South Beach’s unique Art Deco architecture.  It was thanks to the efforts of MDPL that the South Beach Art Deco district was designated as a National Register District in 1979, and, in 1992, when Nancy was MDPL Executive Director, the League was able to convince the Miami Beach City Commission to designate the entire one-square mile area of South Beach as a local historic district, giving it additional protection under local preservation laws.

Nancy remained involved in preservation issues County-wide, even while serving on the City of Miami Beach Commission. “Whenever there was a preservation threat anywhere,” says Nancy, “all of the preservationists pulled together to make their voices heard.”

When the MiMo Biscayne Boulevard Historic District was designated in 2006, Nancy and a few other preservationists realized that Upper East Side residents could use their help. They began to organize weekly meetings to which City of Miami department heads were invited to help residents and business owners grow into their new status as a historic district.  The group elected a president – Fran Rollason of Belle Meade — and the MiMo Biscayne Association was formally established.  When Fran stepped down at the beginning of 2011, Nancy became MBA president.  She continued to serve in that capacity until last year, when she turned over the reins to then incoming president Shane Graber, stepping down completely later in the year.

As MBA’s president and guiding light, Nancy worked extensively with FDOT on a plan to create a more pedestrian friendly neighborhood for the MiMo historic district. Those efforts resulted in a number of enhancements which continue to be implemented to this day.  Nancy also organized yearly festivals such as A Taste of MiMo, which counted with the participation of a number of MiMo’s emerging restaurants, and organized social events to increase membership and raise awareness of area businesses.  Her oversight of committees such as MiMo’s Eyes on the Boulevard Committee, which works with City of Miami Code Enforcement, or MiMo’s Planning Committee, which vets new projects on the Boulevard and assists with the efforts of the City of Miami Preservation Office, greatly expanded MBA’s scope and effectiveness.  Her tireless drive to promote the district and improve conditions on the Boulevard has paid off.  With every passing year, more and more investors have been encouraged to undertake the rehabilitation of iconic historic landmarks, further propelling the emergence of the Boulevard into the destination that it is today.

Nancy – the City of Miami Beach Historic and Environmental Preservation Board is very lucky to count you among its members this year.

MBA is going to have a very hard act to follow. And we will miss you!

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