Door closed on use of CRA funds for stadium, streetcars
By Risa Polansky
Redevelopment dollars are off the bargaining table as funding sources for some City of Miami pet projects after a vote by the board of the Omni and Southeast Overtown/Park West community redevelopment agencies Monday.
The board, made up of the city's five commissioners, resolved unanimously — although commissioners Joe Sanchez and Angel González were absent — to prohibit use of agency funds for either a baseball stadium or the city's proposed streetcar project.
"To me, CRAs are the basics and not grandiose projects," said Tomás Regalado, who proposed the resolution. "It's a simple decision — do we want the money for the people, or do we want the money for the special interests?"
Redevelopment money, he said, is intended to address issues such as homelessness, affordable housing and infrastructure of poor areas.
His aim is to make that clear to the city, the county and anyone else who looks at the redevelopment agency and sees a piggy bank.
At a Miami-Dade County Commission meeting this month, Miami City Manager Pete Hernandez said $15 million in CRA funds were earmarked for the Marlins stadium project, to which the city must contribute $108 million.
In proposing its $200 million streetcar project last year, the city cited redevelopment dollars as a source for 15% of the funding.
"These two projects are coming to the commission in April and May. It would be unfair not to send the message" that agency monies are not a funding option, Mr. Regalado said.
His original resolution sought also to prohibit agency funding of a Port of Miami tunnel, the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts, Parrot Jungle Island and Museum Park in one fell swoop — "it's better to blush once and say it than to be dancing around and have to blush a little many times," Mr. Regalado said — but commissioners Marc Sarnoff and Michelle Spence-Jones felt they needed further briefing on the additional issues before taking a definitive vote.
"I don't want my hands tied so I can't be presented an issue and be able to weigh sides," Mr. Sarnoff said.
He and Ms. Spence-Jones also raised the issue that prohibiting funding could jeopardize the agency's goal of expanding its life and boundaries.
"The county has to approve the geographical boundaries and the limits," Mr. Sarnoff said. "They want certain things from the City of Miami — one is to pick up the loan from the Parrot Jungle. Otherwise, they won't cooperate in expanding the CRA."
But the agency should call the county's bluff and challenge it to responsibly do what's best for the people, Mr. Regalado said.
"For the county to come and bully the City of Miami or the CRA is wrong," he said. "Extending the life of the CRA to help in the needed area is the right thing to do."
Mr. Sarnoff, whose district encompasses the Carnival Center, also protested the original, all-encompassing resolution, saying it could endanger the center's future.
Whether putting hundreds of millions of dollars into the facility was a good idea in the first place is irrelevant, he said.
Now that it's here, the city and agency cannot "allow that jewel to fail," Mr. Sarnoff said, declaring it "our obligation" to make it a "first-class, first-rate facility."
This may be the obligation of the city and county, but not the redevelopment agency, Mr. Regalado countered.
Still, he conceded by amending his resolution to prohibit funding of only the ballpark and streetcar projects — but, he said, he has not changed his mind about the need for a clear message that redevelopment funds are for redevelopment only.
"I'll do it," he said when asked to amend the resolution. "But I'll be back next month to do more."