Archeologists at Related’s Baccarat project site uncover artifacts dating back thousands of years

Critics say Related and the city of Miami are trying to keep the discoveries under wraps

From left: Jon Paul and Jorge Pérez along with an aerial view of 444 Brickell Avenue (Getty, Related, Google Maps)
From left: Jon Paul and Jorge Pérez along with an aerial view of 444 Brickell Avenue (Getty, Related, Google Maps)

Archaeologists discovered thousands of tools, artifacts, and human and animal remains dating back 7,000 years at the Related Group’s Miami River construction site, where the development firm plans a three-tower project.

The 16-month excavation and preservation of the items could be the most archaeologically significant findings near the mouth of the river in the past 25 years, the Miami Herald reported. Other sites include the Miami Circle National Historic Landmark, which experts have predicted is about 2,000 years old.

Archaeologist William Pestle told the newspaper that the artifacts date back to “the time of the emergence of the first cities in Mesopotamia,” thousands of years before the Roman Empire. The site was home to the Tequesta tribe for thousands of years before the Spanish arrived in the 16th century.

It’s unclear how the extensive findings will delay — and result in changes to — Related’s plan for 444 Brickell Avenue and 77 Southeast Fifth Street. The Coconut Grove-based developer, led by billionaire Jorge Pérez and his sons, are already delayed in beginning construction on the first phase of the project because of the discoveries. The next tower in the queue is the planned 75-story Baccarat-branded condo building, which is in the pre-sales phase. Related also plans a high-rise hotel.

In January, Related secured a $164 million construction loan from Truist Bank for the first building, a 44-story, 506-unit rental tower. John Moriarty & Associates is the general contractor.

Related didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Related acquired the property for $104 million in 2013, records show.

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South Florida
Historical artifacts found in downtown Miami

The Herald reported that critics believe the developer and the city have tried to keep the discoveries under wraps. Related has been restricting entry to the site, and didn’t respond to questions from the newspaper about whether it plans to preserve or display artifacts it has uncovered. Related instead provided a statement that it has followed the laws and regulations for any site in a designated archaeological zone. The company has also paid for the excavation and documentation of the site, which it is required to do by law.

City officials involved also didn’t respond to the Herald’s requests for an interview. But the Miami Historic & Environmental Preservation Board voted Tuesday to have the board’s director, Anna Pernas, study whether the site should be designated as a protected landmark. If so, the city could force Related to preserve or exhibit part of the site.

Soil contamination was also discovered last month.

Christine Rupp of the preservation group Dade Heritage Trust told the Herald that it was “really backwards” for a developer to buy property “in a known archaeological zone” and “go forward with such a huge planning process before the zone has been fully investigated.”

— Katherine Kallergis

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