Long ago deal: City made no provision for free garage at Shops at Midtown
By Risa Polansky
Costly long-term parking at the Shops at Midtown Miami is driving employees to park in nearby neighborhoods and shoppers to cut short visits, Miami residents say — all after the Miami City Commission three years ago "promised' free parking.
Commissioners have at two recent meetings puzzled over why people must pay to park at the city-subsidized shopping complex though officials appeared to demand it be free.
The answer: commissioners publicly discussed free parking, but they never required it.
According to archived minutes, the late Commissioner Arthur Teele said in 2004 "it's parking that's going to be free to the people who use these for shops."
At the same meeting, then-Chief Financial Officer Linda Haskins said "shoppers at these kind of centers expect to not have to pay for parking."
Still, the agreement authorizing development between the city, Miami-Dade County and the Community Development District formed by the developers contains no mention of parking, free or otherwise — and commissioners approved the agreement.
"For a condition to apply like that, it has to be engraved" in the contract authorizing development, City Attorney Jorge Fernandez said last week. "If there is nothing specific written there, then it doesn't exist."
Though commissioners in 2004 discussed free parking on the dais, they never formally directed staff to list it as a development requirement.
Without a direct order to include a provision in a contract, "it doesn't become enforceable," Mr. Fernandez said.
Commissioner Marc Sarnoff insisted at last month's commission meeting "there's no doubt in my mind" that "the agreement that occurs on this dais is the true agreement, not what is evidenced later by contract."
But Otto Boudet-Murias, former senior economic development advisor to Mayor Manny Diaz, told Miami Today in 2004 that officials "misspoke" in planning for free parking.
He and a project spokesman both clarified then that parking for shoppers would be free only for the first hour.
This leaves commissioners now to deal with disgruntled customers and area residents.
Ivan San Juan, executive team leader at Midtown's Target, noted "confusion with the (parking ticket) validation process," calling customers "frustrated."
Bruce Cutright, director of operations for the Midtown Group and chairman of the Midtown Community Development District, said parking income funds operation and maintenance of the development's public spaces, and the "only problem" he's found is Shops at Midtown employees parking in nearby neighborhoods to avoid the garage charge.
The hope is to establish required residential parking permits nearby and encourage employees to carpool and take public transportation to remedy the "unfortunate situation," he said.
But the "only way to redevelop the area," said Commissioner Tomás Regalado, is to "let the stores compete with other stores. You cannot compete in the Greater Miami area with Dadeland or Aventura if you're charging for parking."