Miami preservation board makes it official: Tequesta village a designated historic site

An archaeological dig in downtown Miami is underway at the MetSquare development to unearth Tequesta Indian structures.
An archaeological dig in downtown Miami is underway at the MetSquare development to unearth Tequesta Indian structures. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Miami’s historic preservation board on Tuesday approved the designation of the Tequesta village archaeological site in downtown Miami as a protected landmark, putting the capstone on an agreement that will preserve its principal prehistoric features while allowing development to proceed.

The 8-0 vote came less than a week after the city commission approved a mediated settlement hashed out among the property owners, preservationists, archaeologists and public officials that put an end to weeks of controversy over the site’s fate.

By formally designating the site, which has been dubbed the birthplace of Miami, the board ensured it remains legally protected even if the planned hotel and entertainment complex falls through, which is seen as an unlikely eventuality.

The board also retained jurisdiction to approve any changes to the building’s agreed-on design, or in the case of any new significant finds, something also seen as unlikely since most of the nearly two-acre site has been excavated by archaeologists.

And the board retains the ability to review construction as work proceeds to ensure the archaeological features to be preserved — mainly circular arrays of carved postholes in the bedrock that archaeologists believe to mark the foundations of a 2,000-year-old village — are not damaged during construction.

MDM Development, the property owner, did not object to the designation, as it agreed in last month’s mediation. Tuesday’s vote also lifts a legal moratorium on the issuance of construction permits, meaning MDM can apply to the city’s building department to start work on its complex, known as MetSquare.

Under the agreement, MDM redesigned its complex to enclose two posthole circles at the property’s southwest and northeast corners in glass for protection and display to the public, install a gallery detailing the site’s history, and put a glass floor over a well that likely belonged to a 19th Century U.S. Army fort, among other measures. Also to be retained are foundations of Henry Flagler’s Royal Palm Hotel, which gave rise to the city’s incorporation.

A crawlspace under the building will also preserve a third circle and provide archaeologists access for future study to other sections of the site.