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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.

“I know from my own board that the larger the board, the more issues you have to manage,” she said. “However, if the goal is to make sure key elements of the community are represented, then size may not be a real issue. I am part of a coalition of Overtown youth-focused (primarily but not exclusively) organizations and we’re still reviewing the Foundation’s proposal. It’s still unclear how its governing board would function and whether the staff they identify has the skill set needed to roll out a foundation. There are a lot of rules and regulations that must be followed from the state and the federal government. And then there’s the issue of the money itself. I haven’t heard that either of the developers have opened an account yet and deposited this money. Perhaps it’s too early for that. The real question for me is what is the most efficient and effective mechanism to drive community investment that includes the community in that process.”

Disgruntled residents

Community activist and longtime Overtown resident Irby McKnight says a 15-member board is “way too large and would never be productive.”

“They want to get the power but they’re nothing more than parasites,” he said. “We’ve had individual citizens who have done more for this community and provided a better quality of life than the four major churches. I attend Bethel and have been here 45 years. Most of the folks that attend these churches don’t live here, they leave after church. You see the cars go by. The Foundation proposal sounds to me like they want to create jobs for themselves or their friends. The people of Overtown can speak for ourselves. And we should decide what programs will get the money. This is money from two developers but the Foundation’s members seem to think it’s already theirs. It isn’t.”

Martha Whisby Wells, a small business owner, fears that companies like hers will be left out.

“I just wonder if all 30 of the businesses in Overtown will have a voice,” she said. “There’s a new business association that was started a few months ago and they appear to be getting a seat at the table. Why? And why are they charging a $50 per month fee for membership. And then I still am not convinced that both developers have the $1.25M ready to deposit into an account. There are a lot of secret meetings being held but this needs to be something that is planned with everyone at the table and out in the open.”

Will the developers

come thru with the cash?

Jose Gonzalez, vice president, corporate development, Florida East Coast Industries, and the spokesperson for All Aboard Florida, Inc., said for now he’s simply focusing on getting the project approved by the county commission.

“People need to remember that this community fund was our brainchild and was included in our revised proposal,” he said. “We thought it was a sound idea after hearing the residents and leaders say what they needed and hoped to see. That said, we want to make sure that whoever administers the fund, realizes that it cannot be top-heavy in terms of staff because that would eat up all the money in administrative costs.”

Barron Channer, BACH Real Estate and one of the principals with Overtown Gateway Partners had this to say: “Overtown has waited a long time to see its share of economic development. The opportunity is here and it is never too early for the community to prepare and organize. Our commitment to provide money for the community fund is real and will be honored as part of our project.”