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

Categories: Unreal Estate

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Tomorrow afternoon, Miami commissioners will vote whether to declare historic a 66-year-old church surrounded by skyscrapers in Brickell. For the past year, a small group of parishioners has drummed up support for officially protecting St. Jude Melkite Catholic Church. At first, the petition sounded like something you'd be asked to sign outside Whole Foods: an idea so safe even the most cynical Miamian would support it. Besides, what kind of a monster wouldn't want to save a tiny old church?

But the battle over whether to protect St. Jude's is far from simple. Church leaders oppose the idea, saying historical designation will cost them money and violate the separation of church and state. They also accuse those behind the preservation plan of lying about the church's history and secretly maneuvering to make millions off of the building's air rights.

"Our opponents are now on Radio Mambí trashing our bishop and our church," says Rev. Damon Geiger, the pastor at St. Jude. "Why? With all the dirtiness and vehemence, there is something more than just the historical designation."

The preservation battle has pitted a small group of current and former parishioners against church leaders and the majority of the congregation.

The split seems to have formed about a year ago, when powerful brothers Shadi and Wasim Shomar founded a nonprofit called the St. Jude Middle Eastern Catholic Church Inc. and began talking about historic designation.

Wasim Shomar says the company was just a way of raising money for church repairs, but Reverend Geiger says it was a slap in the face for church leaders.

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stjudemiami.org
Worshippers at St. Jude
"They should have asked before they started this process," Geiger says. "Don't act when the bishop has signified that he is not in favor of it."

Shomar says the nonprofit was shuttered when the bishop's opposition became clear.

But in the 11 months since, the once-internal debate has exploded in public. In October, the Miami Herald published a short letter to the editor titled "Save Historic Church."

"Another architecturally magnificent and historical building is on the verge of landing in developers' hands," wrote Maria Elena Lopez. "It seems the Archdiocese of Miami is planning to sell St. Jude Catholic Church on Brickell Avenue because it needs the money."

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stjudemiami.org
Reverend Geiger during a mass.
Geiger says the letter, and countless other complaints like it in newspapers and on local radio, are fundamentally mistaken. First of all, the Archdiocese does not control St. Jude. Second, the man who does -- Bishop Nicholas J. Samra, the head of the Melkite Eparchy Church in the U.S. -- has said there are no plans to sell the church.

The issue nonetheless exploded into flames in February, when Wasim Shomar, his brother Shadi Shomar, and several others brought their petition before Miami's historic preservation board. They claimed that in 1959, the church -- then the Academy of the Assumption -- had played an important role in Operation Pedro Pan.

Under Florida law, outside groups can still apply for a building to be designated as historic despite the objections of the property owners. (See Real Housewives of Miami star Lisa Hochstein's attempts to destroy her own house.)

"At some point, a group of us parishioners thought that this is a good time for us to move ahead and go through the process of asking for the church to become a historical site," Wasim Shomar says. He met his wife at St. Jude, married her there, and baptized his two sons there. "I care about it deeply." (Geiger says Shomar is not a parishioner. Shomar admits he has not attended St. Jude much lately.)

But when the motion came up for a vote April 11, only four of six board members present approved the historic designation. The vote fell one short.

The victory for Geiger and St. Jude was short-lived, however. The Shomars appealed. Tomorrow, the full city commission will vote whether to overrule the board -- and the 1,300 St. Jude parishioners who have signed a petition against the idea -- and grant historical status.

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12 comments
drakemallard
drakemallard topcommenter

  • Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time... But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He's all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can't handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more. Now, you talk about a good bullshit story. Holy Shit!

Kristina Villaverde
Kristina Villaverde

Here is a crazy thought...stop over building Miami! We have so many beautiful buildings with history that are neglected or torn down for another glass high rise. Let's value what we have and get off the greed train!

Antonio De Gaetano
Antonio De Gaetano

Except this isn't about historical preservation at all. The church is private property, which I believe we still respect in this country. If the owners and operators don't want the distinction, it shouldn't be forced on them.

perlorenzo
perlorenzo

...the last thing you need is government interference in faith. Communism is only 90 miles from Florida. No thanks. It should stay and rot there. 

Juan R. Pollo
Juan R. Pollo

Of course. Otherwise it would be a biased decision.

marshallh.hembree
marshallh.hembree

as Sherry explained I am taken by surprise that anybody can earn $6402 in 4 weeks on the computer. did you read this web site   work25

WhyNotNow
WhyNotNow topcommenter

Well, all the church needs is for a well connected developer to make a few calls before tomorrow's meeting and not only will the church NOT be designated historic, they will probably raise the amount of square footage that can be built there.

Antonio De Gaetano
Antonio De Gaetano

The National Shrine is a designation given to it by the Catholic hierarchy itself, not some historical board with no ties to the church.

Debora Gregori
Debora Gregori

Yep. Walks like a duck, quacks like a duck. The dude is not a parishiner but he wants to save the church. Puh-lease! That asshole is after something

Phil Ramirez
Phil Ramirez

if the "Ermita" is referred to as "NATIONAL Shrine", this one should get the designation too.

perlorenzo
perlorenzo

@Kristina Villaverde that's exactly the point! It seems to me what they are interested in is not to protect the Church ( they could care less ) but to put it through financial hardship, weaken it, strangle it and possibly even destroy it so that they can take over the famous "air rights" . It is always about money...you always have to follow the money trail, its scent to get to find out "interesting" things. 

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