Fears over the now-abandoned building’s demolition have swirled for years, but last January, the ziggurat-inspired complex had its historic designation overturned by Miami city commissioners. The building’s owner, former spaghetti western star Francisco Martínez Celeiro (known professionally as George Martin), wants to replace the 37-year-old postmodern Babylon at 240 SE 14th Street with a 24-story condo tower, a far cry from the existing five-story structure.
The Babylon, with its distinctive stepped, fire-truck-red facade, made an immediate splash when it was completed in 1982 and helped propel Arquitectonica on towards larger projects. While the stepped profile, which is extruded through the long, narrow site it sits on, stood out when it was first erected, the building is now overshadowed by the surrounding condo towers in the Brickell neighborhood.
While Celeiro originally sought to build a narrow tower on the site that could have stood anywhere from 48 to 80 stories, the 15,000-square-foot lot is only zoned for a 12-story building. Now, Celeiro is seeking to upzone the lot for a 24-story tower, but according to the Biscayne Times, that request is driving a wedge between the city and Brickell residents and urban planners, who fear the precedent will open the floodgates for other developers to request variances.
The primary motivation for revoking the Babylon’s protected status seems to have stemmed from an engineering survey commissioned by Celeiro, who argued that the building was too far gone to repair, and the inexorable link the complex has to the gritty 1980’s—a drug trafficking-filled era that many are keen to forget.
“This is the real history of the Babylon,” said Commissioner Joe Carollo in 2018, during the 4-1 vote to strip the building of its historic designation, according to the Miami Herald. “This is a place built on the cheap by a guy who was so high he didn’t know if he was coming or going most of the time. I’m amazed that we’re talking about this 35 years later. I’m amazed we have spent too much time glorifying one of the worst buildings in an era many of us would like to forget.”
AN will follow up on this story once further details on the Babylon’s replacement come to light.