Developer promises express passenger rail system and much more

All Aboard FL ups the ante for $250M Overtown project

D. Kevin McNeir | 9/12/2013, 9:17 a.m.
All Aboard Florida may not have been the top choice by the Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency’s [SEOPW/CRA] three-person ...
VISION FOR THE FUTURE: The view from NW 2nd Avenue & 8th Street, engaging The Lyric Theatre. All Aboard Florida

All Aboard Florida may not have been the top choice by the Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency’s [SEOPW/CRA] three-person selection committee in the bid for an historic $250M neighborhood development project, but their team says they believe that when the dust has settled and the paperwork signed, they’ll be the developer with the contract. And they’ve been talking to as many stakeholders as possible, they add, including City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, in order to make sure they meet both the requirements established by the CRA and the needs of the community.

“Between March 2012 and now, we’ve been listening to residents, business owners, the clergy, elected officials — whoever could help us shape this project so that it can be a transformative way to change the lives of the people of Overtown,” said Jose M. Gonzalez, vice president, corporate development, Florida East Coast Industries. “Our goal has always been to understand the key issues for the community and the CRA — and that was even before the additional parcels were on the table. For us, this started with the train project. Later we realized that with the additional parcels we could develop the train station in a truly integrated manner. For example, if we are allowed to acquire lots 45 and 56, we’ll immediately move the All Aboard headquarters and begin to develop all of the land.”

All Aboard Florida is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Florida East Coast Industries [FECI], the legacy company of Miami entrepreneur Henry Flagler. FECI has developed many noteworthy projects in Miami-Dade County, including Bacardi USA Headquarters, Deering Bay, Downtown Doral, Office Depot Global Headquarters and the Palms at Town and Country.

  All Aboard’s development value — $21.5M

Gonzalez admits that changes have been made to the original plan, but he says they were made after hearing stakeholders complain that in the past “while the CRA has gotten an influx of dollars, very little has trickled down to the community.”

“We are working out the details for a direct payment to a neighborhood development fund in the area of several million dollars,” he said. “That along with an upfront payment for the land and indemnity, parking support for the Lyric Theater and the ILA and the affordable housing support totals $21.5M. There are a lot of needs in Overtown that still are not being met. With the neighborhood development fund, residents would finally have something that is recurring and substantial.”

But how will All Aboard fund the project? Gonzalez says his company has met with CRA Executive Director Clarence Woods, III, [as Woods confirms], along with a financial representative for the CRA to explain the financing.

“We are a privately-owned company so we’re not required to show our financial records, but we did,” Gonzalez said. “We’ll pay for the project with a combination of traditional financing and have already gone to our lenders, including the Bank of America. We don’t need any grants nor is our project dependent on subsidies like tax increments from any public entity – not for the train project or the CRA partial developments. When someone takes those tax dollars, someone else suffers. Our plan even includes subsidizing the 60-unit affordable housing component.”

The plan in summary

Here’s what Gonzalez says All Aboard will bring to Overtown: 350 residential units (including 60 affordable housing units) that are 100 percent subsidized by his company; 97,000 square feet of office space; 55K square feet ground retail; a 2000-car parking garage; and a hotel, that would be located on the 9-acre transportation hub.

“As we continue to say, this is an integrated development project and with the train station, we’d develop three public plazas including one at the Government Center and two in Overtown. We can do the job and we’re anxious to get started.”

Gonzalez added that All Aboard is ready to begin as soon as the contracts are signed. They would break ground in the fourth quarter of 2014 and complete the one-phase project in about 24 months, or late 2016. And to dispel one rumor, he says the train, which will run to Orlando with stops in West Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale, will not utilize a wall that will separate the community.

“We are not closing any streets,” he said. “The train will be elevated so that we can maintain connectivity for pedestrians and traffic.”