No sacred ground: Redeveloping church sites is gospel in South Florida with 2K resi units in pipeline
Also on tap: 340K sf of commercial space on religious property
From left: Key International’s Diego and Inigo Ardid along with renderings of the planned 42-story L-shaped tower in Miami (Getty, Key International)
In South Florida’s real estate boom, not even holy ground is off-limits for redevelopment.
Across the tri-county region, developers are seizing on church sites as buildable opportunities. Since 2020, real estate firms have proposed or started 12 projects that would add over 2,021 apartments, condos and single-family homes, as well as 338,300 square feet of commercial space, according to an analysis by The Real Deal.
To be sure, not all projects would replace churches. Some developers plan to repurpose the properties, incorporating stained glass windows and historic chapels into new retail and restaurant spaces. Many more developers propose to build on a church parcel by squeezing towers onto the vacant portions of the lots, leaving the sanctuaries intact. And a few builders razed the churches.
Here is the project pipeline:
Parish hall reborn
The Ardid family’s Key International proposes a 42-story L-shaped tower next to Trinity Episcopal Cathedral at the foot of the Venetian Causeway in Miami.
Designed by Sieger Suarez Architects, the project would have 462 apartments atop a 533-space garage. The Diocese of Southeast Florida would lease Key International the development site, which is at the intersection of the Arts & Entertainment District and Edgewater neighborhoods.
The 100-year-old Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, which will remain, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and also is seeking city historic designation.
Brickell-based Key International’s project would rise at 464 Northeast 16th Street and 515 Northeast 15th Street, where the parish hall annex and diocese offices once stood. Neither was on the historic places register, and both were demolished last year, according to Trinity Episcopal Church.
The tower would include a new 4,000-square-foot parish hall on the ground floor.
Key International and Arnaud Karsenti’s 13th Floor Investments are partnering on a condo tower on a portion of First Miami Presbyterian Church’s lot in Brickell.
The plan wasn’t blessed from the start. Although the majority of the congregation agreed to sell a portion of the church lot in 2021 in a deal valued at $240 million, a holdout from the congregation almost scuttled the plan. A church governing body ruled against the holdout in 2022, the Miami Herald reported.
Coconut Grove-based 13th Floor and Key International’s original proposal was for an 80-story condo tower to replace a school and parking lot behind the church at 609 Brickell Avenue. The developers declined to provide an update on the site purchase and project timeline.
The church, built in 1949, is on the National Register of Historic Places and also is designated as historic by the city of Miami.
A hallelujah for homebuyers
Homebuyers in Fort Lauderdale may soon be able to say “hallelujah.”
13th Floor Investments is expected to complete the first of 34 houses this year in a single-family home development at 2300 Southwest 15th Avenue, according to the developer’s spokesperson.
First Church of the Nazarene, now rechristened Dayspring International, kept its main campus next to the development site.
Construction of Marina Landings started in October, with 20 percent of the homes pre-sold, the spokesperson said.
The project will consist of two 10-story buildings with 319 apartments, combined, and 3,200 square feet of retail at 210-217 Northeast Third Street. Two pedestrian bridges over Northeast Second Street will connect the buildings.
Christ United Methodist Church had moved services to Fort Lauderdale before selling the development site to Cavache for $8.4 million last year.
The Pompano Beach-based developer demolished the main church campus and will move a historic chapel that was part of the sanctuary to Centennial Park.
Cavache, led by Adam and Daniel Adache and Anthony Cavo, expects to complete Old Town Square II in 2026, according to a company spokesperson. It will be near the recently finished 10-story, 281-apartment Old Town Square at 200 Northeast First Avenue.
Salvation for historic church
Arden Group went back to the drawing board for a planned project on the First Church of Christ, Scientist lot in Miami.
In 2021, Philadelphia-based Arden, in partnership with New York-based Skylight Real Estate Partners and Coral Gables-based Panther Capital Management, paid $20 million for the site at 1836 Biscayne Boulevard and 256 Northeast 19th Street. The 1-acre property is at the intersection of Miami’s Arts & Entertainment District and Edgewater neighborhoods.
At the time, the trio planned a 40-story, 364-unit apartment building next to the church. They also planned a restoration and adaptive reuse of the historic sanctuary.
But Arden bought out Skylight and Panther’s stake last year and is re-evaluating the development, according to Jeffrey Perlik, a development executive at Arden. Led by Craig Spencer, Arden still plans to preserve and retrofit the church for commercial uses.
The vacant First Church of Christ, Scientist was built in 1925 in the Neoclassical Revival style and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. It was designed by August Geiger, who also co-designed the Miami-Dade County Courthouse in downtown Miami.
The congregation meets at 15 West Flagler Street in downtown Miami.
West Palm’s First Church of Christ, Scientist preserved
Steve Ross’ Related Companies is developing the 25-story One Flagler next to the First Church of Christ, Scientist in downtown West Palm Beach.
The building will have 270,000 square feet of offices; 4,100 square feet of retail; and 10,000 square feet of restaurants at 134 and 142 Lakeview Avenue and 809 South Flagler Drive. One Flagler, which will be completed this year, is 75 percent pre-leased, according to a Related news release.
New York-based Related bought the development site in 2021 for $20.1 million from the church, which kept ownership of its sanctuary. The church, built in 1928, was designed by architects Horace Trumbauer and Julian Abele. It will remain open.
One Flagler is part of Ross’ hefty bet on downtown West Palm’s office market. Since 2021, Related bought three existing office buildings, and developed and fully leased a fourth. Next on tap are the 25-story 515 Fern on the northwest corner of Fern Street and the Florida East Coast Railway tracks, as well as the East Tower and West Tower at The Square mixed-use complex.
Developers Tal Levinson and Eric Malinasky want to build an eight-story apartment building on the former home of the First Eben Ezer Missionary Christian Church in Fort Lauderdale.
They plan a roughly 400-unit project, with 10 percent of the apartments designated affordable, on the southeast corner of Northwest Seventh Street and Northwest Fourth Avenue in the Progresso Village neighborhood. Levinson and Malinasky will file an application to the city next month, though they will wait for construction costs and elevated interest rates to drop before starting construction, Levinson said.
First Eben Ezer Missionary Christian Church moved to 3970 Northwest 21st Avenue in Oakland Park. The developers found the site, put it under contract and transferred the contract to the church.
Records show First Eben Ezer paid $4 million for its new 8,000-square-foot home, which is bigger than its previous 6,000-square-foot sanctuary. It sold the Fort Lauderdale site to the developers for $5.5 million.
“If that’s not a great deal,” Levinson said, “I don’t know what is.”
Prayers for profit
SP Developments and Continua Developments will replace the former home of the Church of God Evangelical in North Miami with an apartment building.
They plan an 11-story building with 240 units and 22,000 square feet of commercial space, according to Continua’s website. The project, called Urbania NoMi 6th Ave., will rise at 12830 Northeast Sixth Avenue and at the next-door house at 575 Northeast 127th Street.
Eglise de Dieu Evangelique Church of God, led by Pastor Raphael Simon, sold the development site for $5.6 million in 2022, records show. The congregation relocated and the sanctuary will be demolished, Daniel Jaramillo said.
Jaramillo and Tomas Sinisterra lead SP, which is the development arm of their Miami-based Strategic Properties. Hollywood-based Continua, led by Pablo González, is the U.S. development division of Colombian real estate firm Constructora Capital.
Eduardo Pelaez’s original plan for the Fourth Avenue Church of God near Fort Lauderdale’s Flagler Village neighborhood unraveled. But the developer isn’t giving up hope.
Pelaez, through his Miami-based WellMeaning Investments, paid $2.4 million for the church buildings at 1219 and 1239 Northeast Fourth Avenue in 2020, with plans to convert them into a food hall and other commercial space. The church no longer holds services on the site.
The property had termites and structural issues that would have cost roughly $5 million to fix, or more than the expected profit, Pelaez said. He demolished the buildings and is considering a Live Local Act project with workforce housing, though plans are preliminary.
Destined for dining, retail
After Rader Memorial United Methodist in El Portal closed in 2007, the Archdiocese of Miami tried to revive the property as a convent. But the site is destined for something else.
The archdiocese paid $3.6 million in 2007 for the church, which had closed due to financial woes following Hurricane Wilma in 2005, according to the Abandoned Florida website. The church then traded in 2011 for $1.1 million and then again for $3.2 million in 2016 to investors Seth Gadinsky and Samuel Soriero. They entitled the property for an adaptive reuse project and sold it in 2021 for $5.5 million to Elm Springs.
Brickell-based Elm wants to retrofit the 29,000-square-foot church and school at 205 Northeast 87th Street into retail space on the first floor and offices on the second level, Tracy Story Goodson, director of management and leasing at Elm, said via email. The sanctuary would be leased to a restaurant.
Elm is a family-owned firm that manages assets on behalf of foreign investments, according to its website. Jing Yuan Ng is president of Elm, his LinkedIn shows.
Goodson declined to provide square footage for the planned retail, office and restaurant spaces, only saying the project is in permitting. It is expected to be completed next year, she said.
A calling for affordable housing
Smith & Henzy Advisory Group is developing an affordable housing project on land owned by the Archdiocese of Miami.
Delray Beach-based Smith & Henzy is building the five-story St. Joseph Manor II with 150 apartments at 1200-1220 Northwest Sixth in Pompano Beach, according to the development firm’s website. Units are reserved for households earning up to 60 percent of the area median income, which is $88,500 annually in Broward County.
The project is under construction next to the 63-unit, low-income complex St. Joseph Manor I and a church.
Led by Darren Smith and Timothy Henzy, Smith & Henzy Advisory leases the site from the archdiocese.
St. Joseph Manor II is expected to be completed this fall, according to Smith & Henzy’s website.
New sanctuary on tap
CC Homes, a partnership between developers Armando Codina and James Carr, is building 26 single-family homes near Coral Gables.
In March, CC Homes bought the site at Southwest 72nd Street, near the Palmetto Expressway, for $13.2 million from Christ Journey Church. The church, now at 624 Anastasia Avenue in Coral Gables, plans to use the sale proceeds to build a new sanctuary next to the project.
Christened Pine Rockland Estates, the project is 75 percent pre-sold, according to a CC Homes spokesperson. Completion is expected late this year or early next year.