CRA meeting gets “heated” as public weighs-in on $250M project

D. Kevin McNeir | 9/6/2013, 11:52 a.m.
Last Wednesday, the Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency [SEOPW/CRA] invited the public to listen to the two top bidders ...
CRA board listens intently to comments from the community. Photo by D. Kevin McNeir

Last Wednesday, the Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency [SEOPW/CRA] invited the public to listen to the two top bidders for a $250M multi-use project that is anticipated to bring affordable housing, retail businesses, office space and public parking — and much-needed jobs and revenue to the Overtown community. There was “no room in the inn” in the third floor meeting room of the Camillus House [1607 NW 7th Avenue] as Overtown residents, grassroots advocates, business owners, non-profit organization leaders and members of the clergy showed up in force to hear from the Gateway Project and All Aboard Florida.

Both developers hope to build on Blocks 45 and 56 — prime property with great potential both for the company chosen to develop the property and the community itself. But after almost four hours that included presentations from the two top bidders, public comment from close to 50 people and then summary statements from the CRA’s chairperson, City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, it still was unclear which one of the two firms had gained the upper hand.

Spence-Jones stands firm

From the offset, Spence-Jones made it clear that she was opposed to hearing from both firms after the CRA’s selection committee had identified Black-owned Gateway Project as their top choice.

“This is highly unusual and the first time that I can remember that the number one bidder did not get the bid,” she said. “In the midst of all this, it’s important to hear from the people.”

Comments were varied with some speakers in support of one bidder or the other. But there were many who spoke that said they trusted neither one of the bidders and were concerned that the process seemed to be moving too quickly. Spence-Jones explained that unless an extension was requested by the CRA and granted by the County, that ownership of the property would revert to the County in late September [the actual date is September 16]. However, when she addressed the selection process again at the end of the meeting, CRA Executive Director Clarence Woods, III, inserted that her comments about how he had made his decision were “inaccurate.”

Woods says he must do his job too

Spence-Jones did not reply to our request for clarity. However, Woods did clarify his stance.

“The review committee has ranked the proposals and what is being asked is that we advance their ranking to the board without any due diligence, on both sides, to see if they can do the project,” Woods said. “I am not trying to supplant the top recommendation from the board and while I am willing to advance the review committee’s recommendation, I will not sign off on that recommendation if I am uncomfortable.”

Bill Bloom, special counsel to the CRA, said Thursday, Sept 12th is an important date.

“At the CRA meeting, the board has to approve a developer and any variances and then submit a letter to the county variances saying the CRA board has made its decision, if indeed a decision has been made,” he said. “The County then has 45 days to approve or reject that recommendation. We would have one more chance and could issue a new RFP that could stay out for 30 days, but we’d have to reject all of the previous proposals. At this point all we can do is serve up the facts.

The CRA will make its recommendation at the Miami City Commission meeting on Thursday, Sept. 12 at City Hall, 3500 Pan American Drive. The tentative meeting time is 2 p.m.