Board Landmarks Related’s Brickell Site, But Construction Will Likely Proceed
The Miami Historic & Environmental Preservation Board unanimously voted Tuesday to designate a portion of a Brickell site where prehistoric artifacts and human remains are likely to reside underground as a protected archaeological landmark, but the move is unlikely to prevent Related Group from erecting a luxury high-rise there.
The vote follows months of protests from local archeologists, activists and members of Native American groups, who say the ancient findings at the site are significant, and oppose construction on the site, which could destroy the remains.
“This is an incredibly important site. It has the potential to totally change our understanding of the first city of Miami,” Sara Ayers-Rigsby, a professor at Florida Atlantic University and the director of the Florida Public Archaeology Network, said at the public hearing Tuesday. “You name a superlative, it’s probably happening here.”
Back in 2013, Miami-based Related bought the 4-acre site at 77 Southeast Fifth Street and 444 Brickell Avenue, which faces the Miami River, for $104 million. In 2021, as the market picked up during the pandemic and Related prepared to launch a three-tower luxury development, it hired archeologists to dig into the eastern portion of the site, as required by city regulations.
The dig uncovered signs of an ancient indigenous village, including two burials, postholes, 16,610 pottery shards and 340 bones, some of which could date as far back as 8,000 years, according to experts and public reports written by Bob Carr, an archeologist Related hired to lead the excavation. Jorge Pérez, Related’s CEO and chairman, previously said the excavations have cost the firm at least $20 million.
The discoveries halted Related’s development and prompted the Historic & Environmental Preservation Board to take another look. Following a contentious six-hour hearing in April, the board granted Related permission to begin construction on the eastern portion, where it’s erecting the 75-story, Baccarat-branded condo high-rise and a 44-story rental tower, for which it secured a $164 million construction loan.
In turn, the board voted to commence the landmark designation process for the western section, where a 13-story office building remains and experts believe more valuable artifacts are yet to be unearthed.
On Tuesday, the board formalized the designation, which the developer did not contest but which is unlikely to substantially alter its plans to build the third tower.
To the surprise of some board members, Greenberg Traurig‘s Iris Escarra, an attorney for Related, said that the city had already approved Related’s three-tower development in 2015. The approval, the lawyer argued, gave Related a “vested legal right” to build on the site, regardless of the historic board’s decision. Only substantial changes to the development plans would require the board’s input.
If Related were to unearth artifacts, it would be required to present such findings to the board, but board members’ decision on how to handle the discoveries would not be binding, according to an agreement brokered Tuesday.
The deal angered the activists in attendance, including Robert Rosa of The American Indian Movement of Florida, who yelled at board members: “You’re inept at your job.”
Julia Echikson can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.