Coral Gables, FL (November 30, 2021)

Sergio Pino of Century Homebuilders Group and the church (Century Homebuilders, Facebook via St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church – MIAMI FL)
In the rush to build apartments to capitalize on the hot market, developers are competing for increasingly scarce buildable sites. No ground is sacred – not even a church.
Sergio Pino’s Century Homebuilders Group wants to redevelop the St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church building in Coral Gables with multifamily units and space for behavioral therapy school Crystal Academy, which now leases the building, Pino said. St. James no longer uses the property but also leases it to other religious groups.

Pino, through an affiliate, bought the 1.5-acre property at 110 Phoenetia Avenue from St. James for $9.8 million, records show.

The preliminary plan is for a 10-story apartment building with roughly 200 units and a one-story building for Crystal Academy, Pino said. If approved, construction could start in 2023 and be completed in mid-2024.

A project application has not yet been submitted to the city.

Crystal Academy provides occupational, language, physical, music and art therapy, as well as academic help to children diagnosed with impaired cognitive functions, according to its website.

Pino worked with the school principal on the plan for the new Crystal Academy building.

“We actually became close and committed to not only build the multifamily component, but to make sure we keep the school on the site with the park and parking for whatever their necessities are,” he said.

Century Homebuilders, based in Coral Gables, is among the wave of developers seizing on the robust rental market fueled by high demand and increasing rents.

“We are actively looking to put more multifamily in our basket. It’s income producing and booming right now,” Pino said. “So many people are moving to Miami. There is a shortage of rentals, condos. We are selling homes left and right.”

Miami ranked seventh highest in the U.S. for rents in November, with the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment reaching $2,170. That’s a 4.4 percent increase, month-over-month, and a 24.7 percent hike, year-over-year, according to a Zumper report.

Pino’s firm is not the only one developing on a church site. Stephen Ross’ Related Companies is building its 25-story One Flagler office tower in downtown West Palm Beach next to the First Church of Christ Scientist, after buying the site for $20.1 million in July. The church will be preserved.

Century Homebuilders recently finished its 850 Le Jeune project with 230 apartments near Miami International Airport.

It is about to start building a 107-unit apartment project at 390 Bird Road in Coral Gables, and also is in permitting for 675-unit development in Doral, Pino said.

Coral Gables is seeing some of the apartment development rush. Ubiica and Maven Real Estate are planning a multifamily project on an assemblage at 130, 152 and 160 Almeria Avenue. An office building at 152 Almeria will be demolished once leases run out.