Miami approves plan to save archeological find on high-rise site

MIAMI Thu Mar 27, 2014 8:27pm EDT

An archaeologist looks for ancient artifacts at a construction site in downtown Miami February 4, 2014. REUTERS/Zachary Fagenson

An archaeologist looks for ancient artifacts at a construction site in downtown Miami February 4, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) - Miami city commissioners approved a plan on Thursday to preserve the remains of a 2,000-year-old Native American village found on the site of a planned multibillion-dollar high-rise development.

Archaeologists have described the Tequesta Indian site as one of the most significant Native American finds in Florida.

It was discovered in 2005 when developers began excavating what had long been a parking lot. Since then, archaeologists have discovered eight circles of holes in the limestone bedrock where they say supports for Tequesta huts may have stood.

After weeks of negotiations, preservationists and the Miami-based MDM Development Group agreed on a plan that would build two-story glass enclosures above and around two of the circles.

A third circle will be encased alongside the remains of the foundation of the Royal Palm Hotel, built in 1897 by industrialist Henry Flagler, widely credited with establishing Miami. The hotel's remnants were also discovered on the site.

The plan, however, still garnered criticism from some Miami residents that it did not go far enough to protect the site and its history.

"There were negotiations in which there was not one Native American," said John DeLeon, an attorney.

MDM's construction plans include a movie theater, restaurants and a 34-story hotel covering an entire city block, including the archaeological site.

The tower is part of the four-phase Met Miami project, which includes an already completed JW Marriott Marquis hotel, an office building and a 447-unit condo tower overlooking Biscayne Bay.

The developer also agreed to partner with a local history museum to develop an exhibit explaining the site's past.

"We think this will be an asset, that people will come to the shopping area just to see the unique archaeology and if someone eats there all the better," said historian Arva Moore Parks, who sat in on two tense, 12-hour negotiating sessions to hash out the deal.

MDM initially offered to cut out at least one circle and display it in a public plaza once the building was completed. But Miami's Historic and Environmental Preservation Board rejected that plan last month and designated the site historic.

The decision forced MDM, whose attorneys at one point called preservation "impossible," to rework its plan.

A similar circle of holes drilled into the rock, called the Miami Circle, was uncovered nearby in 1998 and is thought to have once been a ceremonial Tequesta meeting place.

That discovery led to a developer being forced to sell the land back to the city.

The site is now a city park, though the circle was covered under a layer of concrete.

(Editing by Kevin Gray and Lisa Shumaker)

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