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Bal Harbour is set to expand massively, but there may be two teeny tiny entities in its way: the Miami Design District and Aventura Mall. The Miami Herald reports that The Whitman family, who founded Bal Harbour Shops 50 years ago, posted an alert on their website suggesting that the two are backing a "mysterious" Bal Harbour civic group opposing the expansion by blocking the demolition of the adjacent church.
Six months ago a non-profit group formed, the Bal Harbour Neighbors Alliance, which sought to stop the demolition of the 70-year-old church next door, mostly due to traffic concerns. A red flag was raised when the Whitman family saw former state legislator and attorney J.C. Planas as its registered agent. Why the red flag? Planas formerly represented a Miami Beach political committee funded at least in part by the Soffers. In the post, the Whitman family accuse the group of spreading "patently false claims" about the shops and the church.
"We believe that this group has ulterior motives, namely preventing this plan from moving forward, and that it is not representing the interests of our community, as it claims," he writes in the post, not explicitly stating that Jackie Soffer and Craig Robins (who recently wed and have quite the adorable millionaire match-up story) have something to gain from preventing the expansion, but certainly hints to it.
Robins denied the Whitman family's claims. "I have not directly or indirectly been involved in or funded this organization, nor do I know anything about it," Robins said in referance to the Alliance group. "I wish the Whitmans the best, but their expansion would be the best thing for the Design District. It would transform Bal Harbour Shops from one of the most beautiful and exclusive destinations in the world to a much more mass-oriented mall. And that would be fine for us."
The accusation also coincides with talks to have The Church by the Sea reviewed by Miami-Dade County's historic preservation board, reports the Herald. It was built in the 1940s by two important Miami architects, but they've been split on the decision to designate it an historic landmark. Some members of the board feel that opponents of the expansion have ulterior motives and are improperly using historic preservation to block it. But here's the kicker: the church has already moved off the property and is totally cool with it. In fact, they sued Bal Harbour Village to issue demolition permits, as crews couldn't continue removing its stained-glass windows, or anything inside the church without them.
"While this plan has been five years in the making, the Miami-Dade County Historic Preservation Board only recently began to explore a possible historic designation for the Church that would restrict our ability to follow the overwhelming wishes of our congregation," said Reverend Robert Asinger in a statement issued through a spokeswoman for Bal Harbour Shops. "With an agreement for a future building in hand and the possibility of our plan being derailed by outside influences, we feel this is the right time to move."
The board is meeting again today to discuss the historic designation of the church. If it decides to go through with the city, demolition could be halted by December, earliest and bring a lot of drama to Miami's retail real estate scene.