Related scores partial victory over development of future Baccarat site
Miami’s board withdrew its proposed historic designation of a portion of the property
The Pérez family’s Related Group scored a partial victory with the future of a three-tower development site along the Miami River, where artifacts and human remains dating back thousands of years were discovered.
The Miami Historic & Environmental Preservation Board unanimously voted on Tuesday evening to withdraw its proposed designation of 77 Southeast Fifth Street as historic and archeological, while directing city staff to work with the property owner on an action plan for the site within six months after the ongoing excavation is completed. The board also unanimously voted in favor of city staff working with Related and other stakeholders on developing a proposal for the archeological designation of a separate but adjacent site at 444 Brickell Avenue. Staff will present that to the board in July.
The withdrawal is a huge relief for Related.
Billionaire developer Jorge Pérez, the firm’s founder and CEO, said Related has spent more than $20 million on the archeological dig so far. The vote followed hours of debate, with several South Florida developers and brokers backing Related’s efforts.
Related’s attorney, Iris Escarra of Greenberg Traurig, pleaded with the board to not move forward with the historic designation of 77 Southeast Fifth Street, where the dig has been underway for more than a year.
The additional delay would have caused “extreme hardship and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage,” Escarra said.
Those in favor of designating both properties as historic, and some against, filled the commission chambers at the meeting, spilling over into an overflow tent at Miami City Hall. Top developers and brokers spoke out against the historic designation of the contiguous sites at 77 Southeast Fifth Street and 444 Brickell Avenue.
They included Fortune International Group owner Edgardo Defortuna — who stayed during the entire five-plus hour meeting — 13th Floor Investments’ Arnaud Karsenti, Integra Investments’ Nelson Stabile, Douglas Elliman Florida CEO Jay Parker, ISG/Related ISG’s Craig Studnicky, Torose Equities’ Scott Sherman, 13th Floor Investments’ principal Rey Melendi, and former Related Group executive Oscar Rodriguez, now a principal at ROVR Development. All have worked or currently work with Related.
Stabile said the city needs to “protect responsible and smart growth investment” and that the “entire Native American community actually should be feeling fortunate and thankful” that it’s Related that is handling the artifacts. That elicited boos from the audience.
Defortuna said he “cannot think of anybody else better than Jorge Pérez and his company to take care of this site.” He urged the board to consider the “potential economic impact” of designating the 77 Southeast Fifth Street site historic — a vote that could have derailed the project.
However, Alexandra Codina, a daughter of developer Armando Codina, supported the historic designation.
“I do think development and growth as a city is always important,” she said. “And we can do that without disrespecting and disregarding our past.”
Pérez and his sons, company executives Jon Paul Pérez and Nick Pérez, sat in the front row of the meeting. The development firm paid $104 million for the two lots in 2013, and plans a three-tower project on the riverfront Brickell property. In January, a Related affiliate secured a $164 million construction loan from Truist Bank for the first building, a 44-story, 506-unit rental tower planned for the 77 Southeast Fifth Street site.
Next, Related plans to build a 75-story Baccarat-branded condo tower that it has been pre-selling. The third high-rise could be a hotel. The parcel fronting Brickell Avenue is still home to a commercial building that’s leased to Capital Grille on the ground floor.
Pérez, Miami’s most prolific condo developer, confirmed that he purchased the property knowing it was in an archeological zone.
“I have built four projects in the immediate area, and done so with extreme transparency and care,” he said during the meeting, calling out opponents to the planned development.
“It’s difficult when you are operating in good faith and playing by the rules and your opponents are not,” he said. “We will suffer immense and undue hardship if this board changes and or delays us by adding an additional procedural layer that simply duplicates what we’re already doing.”
Some supporting the designation as historic referred to the property as a burial site, citing the fact that human remains have been discovered. The Miami Herald reported in February that archaeologists had found artifacts and human and animal remains dating back 7,000 years, and that the excavation had uncovered possibly the most archaeologically significant findings near the mouth of the river in the past 25 years.
“No one should profit from our remains,” said Robert Rosa, a resident of Deltona, Florida, at Tuesday’s meeting. “No one should profit from our sacred artifacts.”