Sanctuaries of worship are not untouchable holy ground when it comes to development in South Florida, as more religious institutions opt to cash in on their prime real estate. Available land for development has become a scarce commodity in the tri-county area, especially in downtown areas near water. Churches occupy some of the best real estate, as many were built decades ago in the center of their communities. Without a single pass of the collection plate, these churches are sitting on millions of dollars. It couldn’t come at a better time as some churches experience a decline in donations due to decreased attendance, making offers for their properties too lucrative to turn away.
For developers, buying land from a church or temple could provide a major opportunity for redevelopment, but they are tricky deals to pull off. The sensitivities of the religious community must be considered and some of these religious buildings have historic designations.
That leaves city officials weighing the social benefits of a church in a historic building against the likely boost in economic activity that would come from private development.
In some cases, such as in Miami, new area-wide zoning has automatically increased the density permitted on land inhabited by religious organizations.
The First Methodist Church of Miami was recently torn down, and Senior Pastor Audrey Warren couldn’t be more upbeat about her church’s future. The church sold the 1.15-acre property at 400 Biscayne Blvd. to Property Markets Group, which plans to build apartments and commercial space there. The church will buy space in the new tower.
In the meantime, Warren is working out of WeWork and her congregation meets at a nearby Methodist church.
“We will have a large sum leftover for the endowment, so the church can continue in perpetuity,” Warren said. “Now all the tithes we receive will go to the homeless ministry and causes we support around the world, not for operations.”