A divided Miami Beach Historical Preservation Board voted this morning to approve a controversial plan to convert a local church courtyard into a glitzy clothing store.
In a 4-3 vote, the board reaffirmed its May 13 decision to allow the Miami Beach Community Church to lease its historic, 94-year-old courtyard on Lincoln Road to a prominent South Beach hotel developer.
The request to reconsider the plan was filed by the Miami Design Preservation League. After this morning's defeat, MDPL said it planned to continue fighting against the decision.
Led by developer David Edelstein, TriStar Capital plans to turn the churchyard into a sleek glass and steel clothing store (rumored to be either an Abercrombie & Fitch or an Old Navy) much like other recent buildings on Lincoln Road.
Today's decision was greeted with relief from Reverend H.E. Thompson.
"The Miami Beach Community Church is extremely pleased that the Historic Preservation Board has decided to deny the Petition for Rehearing," he said in a press release. "This decision allows us to move forward with a project that has been responsibly designed, strongly supported by our congregation, and unanimously approved by the HPB. Above all, it enables us to preserve our land, restore our historic sanctuary and other campus buildings, and serve and support the community for decades to come."
Thompson and Edelstein have said the new plans will include green space on top of the clothing store to replace the old courtyard.
But critics say it's not the same.
"That's ridiculous," says Neal Deputy, a former MBCC board member who has left the church over the courtyard controversy. "It's not a courtyard anymore. It's a roof. There is a difference.
"You can put a garden on any of those roofs on Lincoln," Deputy says. "Nobody is ever going to see them or experience them. It's preposterous in my opinion. Golly. Give me a break. It's no longer a visible symbol of the community. It's a Gap or an Abercrombie & Fitch or a Williams-Sonoma, whatever it's going to be. It's a throw away idea because it doesn't work.
"To take away that green space is tragedy," he says. "You've turned it into Bal Harbour shops. Congratulations."
MDPL said it planned to keep fighting the developers.
"We are dismayed at the Board's decision," said MDPL's Daniel Ciraldo. "The vote was very closely divided 4-3 against the rehearing. We are now considering our options including an appeal of the decision."
If the Miami Beach special master again approves the project, the dispute would then land in court.
A church spokesman also cleared up confusion about the $500,000 given to the church by TriStar ahead of the vote to approve the deal.
"The [letter of intent calling it a "donation" ] evolved into an actual lease with the church," said Josh Oberhausen of Oberhausen Marketing and Public Relations. "Those resources are a legitimate, non-refundable rental payment, which is a standard real estate practice and which the church paid taxes on."