CRA to face epic showdown

Will Overtown residents profit from $250M project?

D. Kevin McNeir | 9/12/2013, 9:28 a.m.
The third-floor meeting room of the Camillus House [1607 NW 7th Avenue] was filled to capacity last Wednesday as Overtown ...
Vision for the future of Overtown

The third-floor meeting room of the Camillus House [1607 NW 7th Avenue] was filled to capacity last Wednesday as Overtown residents, grassroots advocates, business owners, non-profit organization leaders and members of the clergy showed up in force to hear from the two top bidders for a $250M multi-use project. Both made their pitch to the Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency [SEOPW/CRA], hoping to get the nod for a highly-prized project that will bring affordable housing, retail businesses, office space, public parking and much-needed jobs to the Overtown community.

The Gateway Project and All Aboard Florida are the developers that want 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 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.

Residents have their say

“I support All Aboard Florida — they’ve met with individuals and organizations and they willing to purchase the land — they don’t want it for free like Peebles who already let us down before with a failed hotel. I can’t support him. We’ve been promised a fund for badly-needed projects here. We just want to see it in writing.” — Irby McKnight, 56, member, Greater Bethel AME

“Whoever gets the bid must respect the historical and cultural legacy of Overtown. It’s crucial that a Black presence in this community be maintained.” — Agnes Rolle, BTW High alum

“I cannot support any project unless it specifically includes the youth of Overtown. We need a cash equity fund that will provide us with continual revenue and a space just for the youth. They need safe places where they can learn, be challenged and grow.” — Saliha Nelson, executive director, URGENT, Inc.

“We’re tired of being destroyed by those who are supposed to cover our backs. Welcome to the golden ghetto where there are more intellectual people than you can imagine. I’m watching what goes on and believe me, if I’m dissatisfied, I have a big mouth.” — Father Richard L. Marquess-Barry, former rector, Historic St. Agnes Episcopal Church.

“The land that these developers want is sacred to me and anyone who get its, if not us who have been here, blood should run down the streets. I saw what happened when I-95 came through here. I cannot allow that to happen again.” — Jackie Bell, executive director, New Washington Development Corporation.

“We hear the promises of free parking for the ILA but will Black and white blue-collar workers who come here really be able to live together? Will there always be a place for folks like me who have been here for generations? —Ellis Canty, president, ILA.

“They can promise jobs but they have to be willing to hire people with criminal records — that’s always been the way developers have gotten around their promises. A lot of people in Overtown may have made mistakes in the past, but that shouldn’t keep them from moving ahead.” —James McQueen, Overtown resident.

The next step

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 meeting time is 2p.m. Ashley Montgomery contributed to this story.