St. Jude Church Declared Historic by City Commission, Church Leaders Vow to Appeal

Consider it a coup de grâce. After suffering through 15 hours of Marc Sarnoff yesterday, members of St. Jude Melkite Church were finally put out of their misery at 3 o'clock this morning when city commissioners voted 4-0 to designate the small Brickell chapel as historic.

The vast majority of parishioners -- including the church leadership -- were actually against the designation, because they believe it will raise costs and violates the separation of church and state. But by 2:30 a.m., even they were happy to end the "absurd" marathon meeting.

"The guillotine came down 4-0 in favor of preservation," St. Jude board member Suzanne Stonbely says. "We were thrilled with this loss. Now we are free to appeal in a court of law that has rules of evidence and won't profile our architectural expert as he is not a local."

See also: St. Jude Church's Historic Preservation Could Be Worth Millions to Brickell Developers

Stonbely and other churchgoers believe the effort to declare St. Jude's a historic building is more about developers getting access to its air rights than a legitimate attempt to save it.

She believes those behind the push for preservation -- including the powerful Shomar brothers, Wasim and Shadi -- have exaggerated the church's role in Pedro Pan to garner sympathy from Miami's Cuban community.

Wasim Shomar, however, says he has no personal interest in the air rights -- potentially worth millions of dollars -- but wants to preserve a building that means much to him and his family.

In the end, commissioners sided with Shomar, a former president of Miami Dade College and CEO of large investment fund the Lynx Companies.

But the battle is far from over. St. Jude's pastor, Rev. Damon Geiger, said as much before the meeting.

"If it goes against us, I imagine the next step would be to go to the courts," he said. "And we're prepared to go all the way to the Supreme Court if need be."

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.