Downtown rehab plan due before Miami commissioners in April
By Paola Iuspa
A package offering financial incentives to spark growth in the heart of downtown Miami will go before the city commission in April, said Dena Bianchino, assistant city manager.
The Downtown Development Authority will present commissioners with results of a year-long analysis of how to motivate developers to build downtown, said Patty Allen, the authority's director.
Although the proposal was expected this month, it had to be delayed because the city needed to review it, Ms. Bianchino said.
"There are some legal determinations that need to be made."
She said the proposal calls for creating a local authority able to issue bonds so developers can get lower-cost financing. The package won't offer tax abatement because the city has no authority to do that, Ms. Bianchino said. She said other sources of assistance are being considered.
Commissioner Wifredo Gort, the authority's chairman, said the package will also call for reducing permit fees and expediting permitting.
Incentives will be based on a point system, Ms. Allen said, using agreed-upon criteria.
"The developer will get something like a financial scholarship," she said.
Robert Lloveras, with real estate firm CB Richard Ellis and co-owner of the Everglades Hotel on Biscayne Boulevard, said he is eagerly waiting approval of the proposal so his company can move forward with its plans for the hotel.
"It's very hard to get financing for a hotel," he said. "We have people interested in the purchase of the hotel, but they are waiting for the incentive package."
If the commission approves the proposal, which has been removed from the agenda more than three times since it was first scheduled in November, the incentive package will be marketed nationwide among developers, Ms. Allen said. She said it will be formally introduced to development professionals during the Miami Development Summit April 4-6, an event spearheaded by city officials and sponsored in part by the private sector.
"The summit will be like the springboard for the initiative," Ms. Allen said.
She said bringing residential complexes downtown is one of the authority's priorities. She said there are about 400 residential units downtown, a number in sharp contrast with the 100,000 people who work downtown.
"In the big cities people live downtown," she said. "Brickell works because you have residential buildings in there. Same thing with Coconut Grove. When construction started in the '20s and '30s in this area, they only built commercial properties."
Paralleling the incentive package, Ms. Allen said, is an effort to create a new image for Flagler, downtown's main street.
"We are going to build granite sidewalks and install colonial-style lamps alongside Flagler," she said. "We want to re-create its address. We want it to be different from the other streets as it is in the big cities."
Ms. Allen said it did not take long to realize that developers were turned off by ugly and cracked sidewalks, so through the development authority the city was able to allocate money for repairs.
She said streets were untidy because there was no set source of income to properly maintain them. Most of that area, she said, is occupied by government-owned buildings that don't pay impact fees, which are used in part for street maintenance.
"Once we can fix that problem," Ms. Allen said, "downtown will start looking clean and attract developers.