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Miami, developer find some common ground on Brickell site

Robert Rosa of the American Indian Movement of Florida, second from left, and the Seminole Tribe’s Martha Tommie, third from left, sit with others at Miami City Hall in opposition of development at the 444 Brickell site. (Christina Vasquez/Twitter)

Miami’s historic preservation board reinforced its intention to preserve a large portion of the prehistoric archaeological site known as 444 Brickell at an April 4 hearing, but delayed a vote on a formal historical designation. In a compromise with property owner and developer Related Group, it also stopped short on taking action for the portion of the site where two towers are to be built, with 1,400 residential units and office, hotel and retail space.

The 4-acre downtown Miami parcel is located on the southern bank of the Miami River, just minutes’ walk from the Miami Circle National Historic Landmark.

Archaeologists have known of historically significant artifacts at the site for several years. The list of discoveries include 7,000-year-old spearheads and stone points, nets and twine made of plant fiber, and a wooden device used to start fires, among many other artifacts. Human remains of Seminole and Miccosukee ancestors, including teeth and a gravesite with skeletal fragments have been found. Animal remains of fish, reptiles, deer, a now extinct Caribbean monk seal, and a Megalodon tooth have also been unearthed.

Among the parts of one patch surveyed, according to local archeologists, are artifacts that are suggestive of contact being made between Seminole and Miccosukee tribal ancestors and Europeans in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Under Florida law, tribes must be notified and consulted when ancestral human remains are found, in order to supervise their relocation, if necessary.

Last month, Tina Osceola, the director of the Seminole Tribe’s Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO), said THPO has been involved with the site from the beginning and that it’s been “a long and drawn out process.”

“All we can do is to make sure the ancestors at that location are treated as the law requires,” Osceola said. “Sometimes it gets very frustrating when you see an important site like that excavated.”

Osceola said that state officials had been “very cooperative” with the tribe so far.

The five-hour April 4 hearing at Miami City Hall in Coconut Grove drew an overflow crowd. Local media reported that while there were some supporters of the project in attendance, including representatives of the Related Group, there were many more – including archeologists and Indigenous activists like Miccosukee tribal member Betty Osceola and Seminole tribal member Martha Tommie – who were there to call for development to stop, or for a significant preservation of the site.

There have been calls to preserve the site in a fashion similar to the adjacent 2,000-year-old Miami Circle National Historic Landmark that was discovered in 1998. The land where it sits was purchased to prevent a high-rise development.

The Miami Herald reported April 5 that two 8-0 votes by the preservation board came after “a confusing and sometimes heated hearing that archaeologist and University of Miami professor William Pestle described as ‘chaos.’” Pestle helped city staff draw up a proposal for historic designation of the property.

The Herald reported that the votes “appeared to provide the preservation board something that residents, activists and independent experts had been clamoring for: greater and more direct authority over what the Related Group does at the site.”

The preservation board is now expected to make a decision about a formal historical designation in July. Representatives of the Related Group said they want a delay of any historical designation until after the ongoing archaeological dig is completed. The Related Group has also argued that artifacts should not be required to stay in the ground, but be sent to a museum for preservation.

If the historical designation is approved, Related Group could be required to preserve all or a portion of the site, and exhibit the artifacts in a public space while highlighting archaeological and historical significance, although those details were not discussed at the hearing.

Miccosukee tribal member and activist Betty Osceola has led protests against excavation at the site. (Christina Vasquez/Twitter)
Miami City Hall chambers was over capacity for the April 4 hearing. (Christina Vasquez/Twitter)
Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at