UPDATED: Partial bond money released for Overtown CRA projects

Erick Johnson | 7/31/2014, 9 a.m.
The future of Overtown’s redevelopment efforts grew uncertain last week after a financial dispute between county and city leaders delayed ...

UPDATE: Following pleas from Overtown residents, Miami commissioners on Wednesday unanimously voted to release $43.5 million in bonds to jumpstart redevelopment projects in the historic Black neighborhood. The 4-0 decision was viewed as a small victory for Overtown residents who expressed frustration over the long-overdue projects at a public hearing held prior to the vote.

“The projects need to go forward,”said resident Jackie Bale. “The people of Overtown have waited too long.”

“Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” said CRA Chairman Keon Hardemon. “What we did here today is help a struggling community move forward.”

The future of Overtown’s redevelopment efforts grew uncertain last week after a financial dispute between county and city leaders delayed funding to long overdue construction projects aimed at revitalizing the historic Black neighborhood.

The dispute comes as the Southeast Overtown/Park Community Redevelopment Agency was about to move forward on several ambitious mixed-used projects. The projects would be funded by a $60 million bond that the city passed under heavy pressure from outspoken Overtown residents.

The bond would be paid off through property tax revenues from the city and county designated boundaries within the redevelopment area.

But last week the county withdrew $700,000 in funding from the project after a staff member discovered a 1984 Miami-Dade ordinance that capped funding to the CRA up to 2012.

That means the county’s investment this year has been limited to just $4 million, but with future redevelopment projects totaling more than $250 million the CRA could lose millions of dollars in the coming years.

The dispute has placed four major construction projects in limbo as developers wait and hope for a resolution so they can begin erecting buildings that would invigorate areas that are just north and south of interstate I-95. They include the construction of 90 affordble housing units at St. John’s Plaza at NW 13th Street and 3rd Avenue; construction of 60 affordable units called Island Living at 1201 NW 3rd Avenue; a 300-space parking garage at the Historic Lyric Theatre; rehabilitating Town Park Village that was built in 1970 and 75 new affordable housing units at Culmer Center Housing Development.

Officials at the CRA want county officials to remove the cap to free up funding. The CRA says the county ordinance that established the funding cap was without the city’s consent and violated state law.

But county leaders say the funding cap ordinance is 30 years old and was established long before CRA Chairman and Commissioner Keon Hardemon were elected to office.

District 3 Commissioner Audrey Edmonson said she and county leaders have proposed several alternatives that they say would free up other CRA funds to back the bonds. One of them was to alter the CRA agreement with the county, a move that would have increased the bond to $70 million, Edmonson said.

Edmonson said she spoke to Hardemon about the alternatives but he did not present them to the other city commissioners who make up the CRA board.

But sources say Hardemon wants the city to pass a minimum bond amount of $43.5 million, so funds can be freed up to pay the developers to begin the projects. The city would then file a lawsuit to court to force the county to honor its original financial obligations to the CRA.

But Edmonson said any litigation would make things worse and prolong the delays for years. She said the issue is currently in mediation and can be resolved if Hardemon would be more cooperative.

“I will make sure these projects in Overtown happen,” said Edmonson. “But I feel i’m talking to a brick wall.”

Hardemon was on vacation and unable to comment for this story.

The CRA’s weekly public hearing on a $60 million bond will be held on Wednesday at Camillus House,1603 NW 7th Ave.