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Overtown gets $50 million for redevelopment

caines | 5/17/2012, 5:30 a.m.

Spence-Jones heats up in four-hour marathon

It took nearly four hours of public testimony and heated debate but in the end, City of Miami commissioners approved a highly-contested plan to infuse $50 million into the Overtown community. The proposal, sponsored by Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, will finance four mixed-use projects and help with $15 million in renovations to Town Park residences. The money comes from a loan supported by property tax revenue and is backed by Community Redevelopment Agency funds. Controversy arose, however, when city officials suggested that the loan might hurt their ability to fund other projects. This happened after the proposal had been approved by the Southeast Overtown/Park West CRA last month. Many residents were under the impression that the funding marked for Overtown would be taken from them and used for the Port of Miami tunnel project. But commissioners clarified that point saying that their hesitancy in moving forward was to ensure that banks would not interpret the [two] loans as a dilution of our creditworthiness, as one city finance officer wrote in a memo to the commissioners. Specifically, commissioners wanted clarity on its having already committed to providing $45 million towards the Port of Miami tunnel costs through the issuance of bonds. The bonds are based on CRA tax revenues. We [the City] have a legal obligation to pay $45 million we have to pay Wells Fargo in June 2014, said Commissioner Marc Sarnoff. If we dont pay or refinance, we can be in default. Finance officials from the city as well as the city attorney, testified during the meeting that they had spoken with lenders and believed that the Overtown project would not cause the City to suffer. They also said that it would not impact funding for the tunnel project. No matter how much Overtown residents try to remain patient, they keep seeing obstacles placed in their way, Spence-Jones said. I am proud to see my community come out in force for Overtown and know this is a tough decision for us. And while Commissioner Sarnoff has asked us to defer our vote, I believe the people here today illustrate that this is an issue of urgency.

Carollo asks for time to evaluate the numbers

Commissioner Frank Carollo, following public testimony, said he wanted more time so that he could do my due diligence. Carollos comments focused on his need to have more time to understand the financial implications of the proposal. But after lengthy debate, particularly between him and Spence-Jones, he voted along with the other commissioners in favor of the proposal. The city commission voted 4-0 to move forward with the investment plan for Overtown. The $50 million bond initiative still has several roads to travel. It now goes to the Miami-Dade County Commission and will eventually need to go before the CRA for a final vote. Other city and county officials that testified, pledging their support for the Overtown project, included County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson and M-DCPS board member Dr. Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall. A CRA is a special district that uses a portion of property tax revenue in blighted neighborhoods to fund redevelopment. The proposal includes: a parking garage; a mixed-use project called Lyric Place; a residential project known as St. John Overtown Plaza; rehabilitation of the Town Park townhouses and garden apartments; and an eight-story residential building on NW Third Avenue that would be called Island Living. Gregory Wright contributed to this story.By Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com