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Heads clash on proposed $2.5M community fund

Are leaders putting the “horse before the cart?”

D. Kevin McNeir | 10/10/2013, 9 a.m.

When the next full Board of Miami-Dade County Commission meeting convenes (Tuesday, Oct. 22), one of the most anticipated agenda items will be a $250M multi-use development project, proposed by the Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency [CRA] and approved last September by the City of Miami commission. Those in the know believe that the project, which would be built by two top developers — Overtown Gateway Partners and All Aboard Florida — won’t have much trouble getting the nod from the county commission.

But one of the conditions to which both developers agreed was to earmark $1.25M from each of them into a community fund that would be held in trust for Overtown-based projects.

Sounds like a wonderful opportunity for a community that has had more than its share of tough economic times. However, as both the developers and a slew of leaders who either work or live Overtown can attest, the challenge they now collectively face is hammering out the details for the community fund.

Questions have run the gambit: How much money can one organization receive in a year’s time? What kind of governing board would oversee the fund? Can administrative costs be kept to a minimum so that more dollars are available for the projects themselves? Is there a way to reinvest the dollars in the fund so that they can be replenished and the fund would remain solvent? Who would decide what kind of projects or organizations should receive funding?

And in order to ascertain how those closest to the project feel, The Miami Times sat down with clergy, business and home owners and spokespersons for the development companies.

Making the fund work for everyone

The four historic churches of Overtown (Greater Bethel AME Church, Mount Zion MBC, Saint Agnes Episcopal Church and Saint John Institutional MBC) have joined forces “to function as an honest broker concerning the proposed development.” According to their spokesperson, the Reverend Canon Richard L. Marquess-Barry, “our sole interest is the good will of the Overtown community. We reviewed the working mechanisms of several foundations and business incubators, met with various stakeholders and were able to formulate a complete community action plan in the form of the Overtown Community Development Foundation. Every interest of Overtown is represented in the concept of the Foundation.”

Barry went on to say that of paramount concern to him and his colleagues is carving out a “frontier for Overtown. This is very much a work in progress but we believe it is a working plan.”

Specifics from the Foundation’s plan include a 15-member board of trustees — five being appointed by the faith-based institutions in Overtown — five appointed by a cadre or community-based organizations. The remaining five members would be people with essential professional and business backgrounds and would be elected from the 10-member appointed body.

But would a 15-member board be cumbersome and difficult with which to work?

Urgent Inc., Vice President Saliha Nelson says the size bothers her — as do other issues not clear in her own mind.