For 92 years, Miami Beach Community Church's courtyard has been a sanctuary. The small, shaded square was one of the only clean spots back in the '80s as South Beach spiraled downwards. And in the past 10 years, as Lincoln Road has roared back to life, the courtyard has remained a tranquil corner amid the construction and commercial chaos.
All that could soon change, however. The church is currently considering a proposal to lease the courtyard land to a private developer to build three stories of restaurants and retail shops. Church leaders wouldn't say how much the proposed deal is worth, but one church member cited a figure as high as $100 million for a 50-year lease.
"This is a miracle from god," said Eric Donahoe, who heads the church's board of directors. "It's truly a miracle from god that he would provide this church with these types resources."
Not everyone is so enthused about the idea, however.
One church member tells New Times that he is considering quitting the church and leaving Miami Beach if the deal goes through.
"It's typical Miami Beach politics," he says, speaking to New Times on the condition of anonymity. "We don't even know who is on the other side of this development deal and yet they want us to sign over the biggest asset of this church. I'm not even sure if they have the right to do that. It was deeded for non-commercial use. It was deeded for the church."
"They've given us no information, no plan, no nothing," he says. "It's all very, very hinky."
Adding to the confusion is that congregation members only learned about the proposal yesterday during service. Yet, they are being asked to vote yes or no on the idea this Sunday. Members were told that they could vote in person after service or in advance by signing a proxy document.
"We have an aging congregation and they are very easily swayed," says the anonymous church member. "And we have a new minister. He's only been here one year, so he might be hoodwinked too. He came from Carolinas and all of a sudden he's looking at a $100 million deal."
"I don't want to get involved but I have to speak up when there is issue of mismanagement of what I consider to be God's property," he says. "I didn't sleep last night. I prayed on it."
But both Donahoe and Miami Beach Community Church's pastor, H. E. "Hunter" Thompson, say that the deal is the only way to save the church.
"I think this is an exciting opportunity for the congregation," Thomspon says. "In some ways, it's a blessing. But the congregation needs to be informed about the implications. I'm looking forward to great dialogue what they see about the future of the church. I'm optimistic. This church has a long and storied history in South Beach and I'm looking forward to it continuing to be a beacon of light for decades to come."
Donahoe, who is in charge of discussions with the developer, says the church simply cannot survive without doing something to radically raise revenue.
"Our church has been going through a financial crisis. We are trying to figure out ways to keep the doors to our church open," he says. "Over the past year, the board of directors of Miami Beach Community Church has looked at many, many different ways we could increase revenues. This is the only solution that we've been able to come up with."
Donahoe says that he understands opposition to the idea, but says it stems from mis-communication.
"What we may not have been clear on is how dire the financial situation of the church is," he says.
Donahoe wouldn't say which developer might lease the land or for how much. But he says that the developer has agreed to certain conditions, including a three-story limit and putting a green courtyard on top of the building to replace the one that is being lost.
He says that whatever goes in at the location -- should the project be approved by church members -- will have to respect church values.
"No bars or strip clubs or sex shops," Donahoe says. "Nothing of that nature would ever be allowed to go in there. It would be very similar to what you see on Lincoln Road," meaning clothing stores or restaurants.
Donahoe says the congregation should trust church leadership.
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"God has looked down on this church and said, 'I trust this congregation and these congregation leaders to take these resources and glorify my kingdom,'" he says.
"I've been a Christian my entire life but I've never experienced first -hand a miracle," Donahoe says. "I've read about them plenty, but this is the first true miracle I've been involved in."