Overtown project goes ahead with rare compromise

Developers says the real winners will be the residents

D. Kevin McNeir | 9/19/2013, 9 a.m.
It was standing room only at last week’s City of Miami commission meeting, with Overtown residents and supporters arriving by ...
Vision for the future of Overtown

It was standing room only at last week’s City of Miami commission meeting, with Overtown residents and supporters arriving by the busload to weigh-in on two multi-million dollar proposals. The one approved would clear the way for a $250M multi-use development project. As for the top two developers, Overtown Gateway Partners and All Aboard Florida, each was prepared to give its final pitch to the commission, hoping that their bid would be selected with that decision passed on to the Miami-Dade County commission for final approval. Meanwhile, citizens were poised to step up to the mic in order to make public comment about which of the two bidders they supported and to share their general concerns about the challenges facing “Towners.”

Then, in a rare move, City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, after giving a history of the events from the issuance of the CRA’s RFP to the vote at hand, asked the lead partners from the two companies if they would be willing to “work out a compromise.” And while a requested 45-minute recess turned into several anxious hours of closed-door negotiations, in the end the Overtown Gateway Partners and All Aboard Florida agreed to independently handle parts of the project.

“The CRA board felt that it was in the best interest of Overtown that the two properties be split between the top two reputable proposals,” Spence-Jones said, also addressing the tension that had brewed over the past few weeks which she feared could cause irrefutable harm to the community.

“In the past so many promises have been broken to the residents of Overtown,” she said. “I think these developers will begin to fulfill some of the promises by bringing quality housing and commercial revitalization to Overtown.”

Donald E. Peebles, one of the financial partners for Overtown Gateway Partners, says his company will develop the residential part of the project and the construction of a “four-star hotel” while All Aboard Florida will handle the commercial and retail side of the project, as well as parking.

“I was surprised when we were asked to work together but I understood the rationale — we each have our own specialty in the industry and to delay much more would cause severe economic setbacks for Overtown and the CRA,” Peebles said. “For me and for my partner, Barron Channer, while we wanted to emphasize that we were chosen as the top bidder, in the end we wanted to see the project developed and we wanted to be part of that development. This is a win-win for both developers but more than that, it’s a real win for the City of Miami and the people of Overtown.”

Channer says the commission’s decision speaks to the ability of Black-owned businesses to compete.

“We respect All Aboard Florida and they respect us — there was no need to tear the community apart,” he said. “This is an example of a Black business success story. This is the largest single project in Miami to be led by Blacks.”

Jose Gonzalez, VP, Florida East Industries, agreed that the real winners are the community.

“You have two firms with very strong backgrounds each doing what we do best,” he said. “We are known as a world-class office and commercial developer and that’s a win for the community. I’d also say this is a success story in terms of transportation. Both companies will benefit from the transportation hub that we’re building and residents will see how it will create a real synergy.”

Gonzalez added that it will be important to continue to listen to what Overtown’s citizens say they need and hope to see.

“We’ve established a lot of relationships and as we move forward, especially with the requested community fund, we’ll need to keep getting input from residents,” he said.

Both develops added that they will not be working as venture partners. Rather, they will remain independent, working on block 56 (All Aboard Florida) and block 45 (The Gateway Project), exclusively.