The Biscayne Times

Jun 05th
Developers Set Their Sights on El Portal PDF Print E-mail
Written by Francisco Alvarado, BT Contributor   
December 2017

Live-work-play proposed for former church property

EChurch_1ight years after plans to transform the former Rader United Methodist Church in El Portal into a charter school fizzled, a new proposal to reinvent the massive property could begin taking shape in early 2018, according to one of the current owners.

Seth Gadinsky tells the BT that he and his development partner, Samuel Soriero, are hoping to begin renovation and construction work in 90 days to convert the two-acre site, located at 205 NE 87th St., into a complex with artist studios, offices, an event space, and a restaurant called the Sanctuary.

“We’re slogging through the permitting process,” Gadinsky says. “We’re not adding much, but we’re upgrading and modernizing the property. We felt we could improve the neighborhood by doing something special that keeps the structure of the buildings intact.”

Their plans would reactivate what is arguably the village’s largest private parcel, which was a hot topic of contention the last time developers proposed a new use for the shuttered church. At the time, local residents complained that a planned charter school would have brought high volume traffic to an already busy intersection in El Portal.

However, Gadinsky says, the Village’s elected officials support his project, and a 2013 planning and design charrette recommended the property be re-designated for commercial use. The village council officially rezoned the property last year. He adds that he and Soriero will unveil details about the Sanctuary to residents in the coming weeks.

“The mayor and some council members are privy to it,” says Gadinsky. “They seem to like where we’re headed. And I think the residents will like what they see when we’re ready to give them a proper presentation.”

Church_2In a phone interview, El Portal Mayor Claudia Cubillo says she met with Gadinsky and Soriero a few days after Hurricane Irma hit South Florida to go over preliminary design concepts for the Sanctuary. “From what I have seen, what they’re proposing is in line with the vision of what our residents want to see moving forward,” Cubillo says. “The feedback from residents who’ve heard about what they are proposing is that it will be well received.”

Even so, Cubillo says, Gadinsky and Soriero will still need to obtain council approval for the various components that comprise their project, as well as addressing concerns about traffic flow on NE 87th and NE 88th streets.

Other Village officials -- among them Vice Mayor Omarr Nickerson; council members Werner Dreher, Vimari Roman, and Harold Mathis; and interim Village manager Christia Alou -- did not return phone messages seeking comment.

David Ward, an El Portal homeowner who recently criticized Gadinsky and Soriero for not maintaining the Rader church property, says he believes their proposal is a good fit for the neighborhood.

“I just hope the way they’ve kept up the property is not how they intend to keep it in the future,” he says. “Cleaning up the building, painting, and keeping the lawn clean would only enhance their efforts.”

In June and September, Ward posted photos of the Rader property on the website, which serves as an online community message board. Ward claims the photos showed the “deplorable condition” of the church. “The condition is still terrible,” Ward wrote on September 1. “It shows a total lack of regard for our village.”

Ward says he’s concerned that the new owners have no intention of redeveloping the property and may be looking to flip it. “I saw other properties they’ve developed, and they have done a nice job elsewhere,” Ward says now. “It could also be they’re waiting for the right offer to come along.”

Gadinsky says he and Soriero have spruced up the property since Ward complained, and that they are committed to redeveloping the church.

“For me personally, it’s a special property,” Gadinsky says. “That area is coming around, and we felt this project is something we want to take on.”

The church has been empty since 2007, when the Catholic Archdiocese of Miami bought the property for $3.6 million. The archdiocese initially planned to convert the church into a convent for nuns but dropped that proposal amid budget cuts and a down economy. Two years later the archdiocese had a contract to sell the church to developers who wanted to make the property a charter school for 1000 students. But the village council rejected the proposal amid opposition from neighboring homeowners, who claimed the school would bring more traffic, litter, and crime to the area.

In 2011 the archdiocese sold the property for $1.1 million to the Mount Olives Church, a Haitian-American Christian church based in North Miami. Gadinsky and Soriero, through their company The Sanctuary in El Portal LP bought the property from Mount Olives for $3.2 million in February 2016, according to the Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser’s online database.

Gadinsky is also owner and founder of Gadinsky Real Estate, a company that specializes in commercial development. The firm owns Art Deco buildings along Collins Avenue in South Beach that house a Victoria’s Secret and a Banana Republic; four shopping centers in Doral, Coral Gables, South Miami, and Kendall; and other retail projects in Miami-Dade.

Soriero is a principal with Group 10 Capital Management, a Miami-based investment firm that provides financing to commercial development projects. “Sam has been doing investment deals down here for the last seven years,” Gadinsky says. “He introduced me to the Rader property.”

Gadinsky says he and Soriero were attracted to the old church because of its proximity to Little River, Little Haiti, and the Design District. He says the small cathedral, built in 1952, and the schoolhouse, which was completed in 1955, have a certain character that is worth preserving, and cites a sprawling kitchen, stained-glass windows, more than a dozen rooms, and a large yard as key amenities that can be adapted for commercial art and creative services.

The Sanctuary will feature offices, showrooms, and studios for artists, as well as a restaurant, Gadinsky says. His company will also seek permission from the Village to use the Sanctuary as an event space for gallery openings and live performances.

The Sanctuary has signed leases with the owners of Ironside Pizza in Miami’s Upper Eastside neighborhood and Brickell’s Toscana Divino. “They’ll do an Italian grill concept,” Gadinsky says. “But the restaurant doesn’t have a name yet.”

Yet Gadinsky insists that most of the property will remain as is: “The only major thing we’re adding is an elevator tower,” he says. “Considering we’re just renovating it and making it nice, we feel the people of El Portal will be very happy.”


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