As city considers preservation, archaeologists connect Brickell dig to famed Miami Circle

Historic preservation vote scheduled for Tuesday; developer calls any designation ‘premature’

MIAMI – A group of archaeologists are set to make the case for historic preservation of a major archaeological dig located at a development site in Miami’s upscale Brickell neighborhood.

Archaeologists discovered artifacts and fossils dating back thousands of years at the 444 Brickell construction site, located in the area of Southeast Fifth Street and Brickell Avenue, where developer Related Group plans to build three new towers, including the Baccarat Residences.

The city’s Historic and Environmental Preservation Board is set to meet Tuesday to consider a historical designation for the site, which could delay or alter development plans.

A slide show for the meeting, put together by archaeologists and city preservation officials and obtained by Local 10 News, details arguments for historic preservation.

It shows a plethora of ancient items found, including post holes, tools, projectile points and fossils of large animals, including “sea turtles, now-extinct seals and whales.”

The presentation also details ceramics, hard stone and decorative minerals that “show Tequesta people were linked via trading networks and belief systems with many peoples from across prehistoric eastern U.S.”

“The abundance of these items supports an interpretation of this site as an important political center where tribute was collected,” the presenters wrote.

Presentation slides:

The presentation notes that the development parcels “are part of the same site as the Miami Circle, which was recognized as having national significance when it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002, and named a National Historic Landmark in 2009.”

The Miami Circle is located just across Brickell Avenue, near the mouth of the Miami River.

University of Miami professor and bioarchaeologist William Pestle, one of the authors of the presentation, said the case for preservation is “black and white.”

“Both of these parcels unquestionably meet the standards for designation at outlined in the city code of ordinances,” Pestle said.

Pestle said the Miami Circle site is significant, as the home of a Tequesta village that once extended across both banks of the river.

“This is a site that is recognized as regionally and nationally significant, so if we acknowledge the significance of that, it leads us pretty necessarily understanding that the sites being worked on are indeed themselves significant and merit designation and ultimately some form of protection,” he said.

The presentation alludes to ideas for creative mitigation that could be incorporated into the development.

For instance, it details a public display of fortifications of ancient Athens that were preserved and put on public display in Greece.

“I think what a lot of us are, have been, attempting to come up with are examples of how we can meet both this, where the developer can meet their goals of building a building, while still preserving in place whatever elements ought to be preserved,” Pestle said. “Perhaps (they can) set aside portions of the parcel that don’t need to be developed, they don’t need to be disturbed. "

He added: “This is something that is routinely done in other parts of the world, development, and cultural heritage preservation can be found to co-exist.”

Some Native American groups have called for digging to be stopped entirely and for the site’s preservation.

Those groups have protested outside the site and intend to hold a news conference before Tuesday’s meeting, which is expected to draw a larger-than-normal crowd.

In a statement to Local 10 News, a Related Group spokesperson said it remains “committed to delivering a property worthy of its unique location on the Miami River at the gateway to Brickell Avenue. A project that enriches the area providing public access to the waterfront and duly honoring the site’s history.”

The spokesperson said the company has “diligently and meticulously” respected and adhered to laws and guidelines and have paid for archaeologists to excavate and preserve the items “with the utmost respect and care” and said their work on the site is not finished.

“Taking any step toward additional designations and restrictions at the upcoming HEP Board meeting is premature,” the statement said. “The site is already protected by the strict regulations of being located within a designated archeological area and an overlapping designation that imposes the same procedural rules is redundant.”

The statement goes on to say: “With this in mind, we are respectfully asking the board to delay any steps toward historical designation until after the archaeological work has been completed.”

Tuesday’s meeting is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. at Miami City Hall in Coconut Grove.

Aside from preservationists and Native American groups, representatives from Related Group are set to be in attendance, along with representatives of the Brickell Homeowners Association.

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About the Authors:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."

Chris Gothner joined the Local 10 News team in 2022 as a Digital Journalist.