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‘Enough Buildings’: Brickell Residents Oppose Church Plan For Development

Samantha Castellano sits in Mary Brickell Park watching her 5-year-old son scale the rope ladder and slip down the slide. As a Brickell resident for 15 years, she’s seen residential and office towers clog the skyline. At nine months pregnant, Castellano, 38, said she has a big problem with First Miami Presbyterian Church looking to sell some of its land to a developer.

“I think there should be more green spaces and not more buildings,” said Castellano, who would prefer a museum or community space for her growing family. “There’s enough buildings already.”

Owning what is one of the last waterfront properties in Brickell, the church is looking to sell the parking lot and the Key Point Christian Academy building at 609 Brickell Ave. to a real estate firm for the development of a soaring residential high-rise.

Many area employees and residents told the Miami Herald they are concerned about increased traffic, limited outdoor eating options, job loss and the diminution of one of the last green spaces in the city’s financial center. Valeria Gomez, a Brickell receptionist, calls the area a hidden gem. During tours with people she works with, she advertises the many food options in the food truck plaza, located in the church’s parking lot, and the Brickell Key, Biscayne Bay and ocean views.

“You can take a walk and you don’t have to go all the time to Shake Shack or Mary Brickell Village,” she said. “It’s nice. This area is a favorite, at least for my clients.”

The 26-year-old said most days from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. the plaza is crowded with residents who want to grab a quick bite or account managers who’d like a relaxing lunch outside the office. She recalled the crowds as she got off work after 6 p.m. earlier this week.

“All the tables were filled up, there were people waiting to get help from the food trucks and everything,” Gomez said.

Several of her clients have children enrolled in the K-8 religious school and she said she cannot imagine how the parent would feel with the school closing if the land is sold.

“You’re taking away an educational environment to make room for people outside of the area,” she said. “With that being said, I feel like it’s a terrible idea.”

Traffic jams are unbearable, she added, and a driver could be sitting in gridlock for 30 minutes when the Brickell Avenue bridge raises. With the introduction of another large condo building, she imagines matters getting worse.

“It’s still a beautiful city, I think we have to do a better job at taking care of it and remembering the people instead of the business,” Gomez said.

Church members plan to vote after services Sunday on the land sale. The Brickell-based firm, 13th Floor Investments, has proposed constructing a high-rise condo with retail and restaurants on the ground floor, as well as worship space inside the tower. If the congregation votes in favor of the proposal, the church could receive about $240 million.

Isaac Rondon, World Wide Bistro food truck owner, said he sells his gourmet burgers and Philly cheese steaks from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. every day in the plaza. The 23-year-old relies on the Brickell customer base for sales and without the plaza he could lose his job. As a historic site in Miami, the church cannot be demolished or relocated.

The church was hit with a $7.1 million tax bill in 2018 by the Miami-Dade Property Appraiser, for permitting a portion of church grounds to a for-profit school and the food trucks, violating its religious exemption status.

John Wayland, who works in banking in Brickell, said the land is an underutilized asset and by selling a portion of the property, the church can finance additional resources and services.

“I’m not sure how many more condominium buildings Brickell needs to have going up, but I would also say that I understand the desire to be able to convert an asset into a monetary asset,” Wayland, 53, said.

Chip Hoebeke, a consulting director for a business firm, said the plaza is one of the few spaces in Brickell where visitors and locals can enjoy the comfort of street food in comparison to the influx of high-end, sit-down restaurants in the area. As a fan of the vanilla milkshakes from the World Wide Bistro, he described the food truck plaza as a space for dog owners and parents to decompress.

“This is kind of a release valve for that congestion, and at some point, when you have too much congestion it’s got a negative influence on everybody,” Hoebeke, 47, said.


Source:  Miami Herald

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First Miami Presbyterian Looks To Sell Prime Real Estate For Development In Brickell

The First Miami Presbyterian Church is looking to sell a portion of its prime real estate location for development on the Miami River and church members are set to vote on the possible deal on Sunday, the church’s head of staff and reverend said Monday. The church, the oldest congregation in Miami, wants to move forward with plans to sell the waterfront parking lot and the Key Point Christian Academy building at 609 Brickell Ave. to the Brickell-based real estate firm 13th Floor Investments, according to documents shared with the Miami Herald from a source who had access to the plans at an Oct. 3 meeting of church members.

The source said the plans are for a high-rise condominium with retail and restaurant space on the ground floor. It would also provide the church with congregation space inside the tower. The project would be built on one of the last remaining waterfront properties in Brickell. With views of Brickell Key, Biscayne Bay and the ocean beyond the residential tower would sit between the Icon Brickell and an office tower 701 Brickell.

Rev. Dr. Christopher Benek said church members will vote on a plan Sunday after services, but he declined to comment on project details.

“This is a real moment before the church. God has blessed this community with an opportunity to potentially serve the people of Miami and the world to scale,” Benek said. “No matter where we land on Sunday, God has been working for the past 125 years to work through this congregation and he will continue to work through this congregation, regardless of the vote.”

According to the proposal, the church would receive about $240 million. Benek declined to comment on any financial arrangements. The 150-member church has faced financial challenges in recent years. In 2018, the church received a $7 million tax bill for allowing some of its property to be used for profit.

Benek said, “We’re not making a decision from scarcity, but of abundance.”

Another source familiar with the plans said church members have not been given enough information ahead of the planned vote this weekend.

“It’s hard to share the opportunities or challenges, because we don’t have enough details about the plan,” the source said. “You need an elected committee of church members to evaluate that. Any plan needs to be evaluated based on the needs of the church and not based on the dollars and cents of a real estate deal.”


Source:  Miami Herald

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