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Front Page » Top Stories » Camillus Looks Forward To New Shelter After Completing Landswap Agreement

Camillus Looks Forward To New Shelter After Completing Landswap Agreement

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Written by on June 12, 2008

By Scott E. Pacheco
Camillus House officials hope to break ground on a $60 million complex to serve the homeless and finish it by August 2010, says Paul R. Ahr, president and chief executive officer.

The State of Florida, the University of Miami and Camillus came to terms Tuesday on a complex land-swap agreement that will allow Camillus to obtain site control of the land between 15th and 17th streets on Northwest Seventh Street.

It also means Camillus’ existing 20,000-square-foot site near the Miami Arena will hit the open market as early as this week. The owners of that land, the Brothers of the Good Shepherd, have pledged the proceeds of the sale of the existing shelter to the capital campaign for the new facility.

"It comes to fruition today because everybody agrees we’ve done enough to get it done," Mr. Ahr said Tuesday. "We are pretty close — maybe three to four months away from putting a shovel in the ground."

The University of Miami will take control of the land on Northwest Seventh Street between 17th and 20th streets and plans to build a biosciences center on it.

Camillus House began in 1960 as a small soup kitchen to benefit newly-arrived Cuban-Americans. It operates 14 facilities in the county including emergency shelters, transitional housing and job training centers.

Camillus House officials have been trying since 1984 to move into a bigger facility than its shelters near Miami Arena and in Allapattah that also serves as a job training facility. Moving the shelter out of downtown has long been a goal of the business community as well.

In August 2006, the Miami City Commission approved the new Camillus facility amid some protests by area residents. The Florida Cabinet in September 2006 approved the land swap, which included a 60-year lease for Camillus on its new land.

But the deal took longer to consummate as the university performed due-diligence on the land, which included taking care of "80 matters" on its new property, Mr. Ahr said, adding that Camillus took that time to raise money and make preparations for the project.

It was crucial that the deal get done now because Camillus House faces a Monday deadline with the Florida Housing Finance Corp. On the line are $20.1 million in tax credits that are to be used on an 80-unit apartment complex.

Mr. Ahr said that Camillus is at the top of Florida Housing Finance Corp.’s list for projects, but that the apartment building project isn’t already under way only because Camillus hadn’t been able to show site control of the land.

"Our deadline for getting all the land under lease is in October," Mr. Ahr said. "We really don’t need it under lease until such time as we are ready to begin construction."

The facility is to include a kennel in which homeless clients can keep their pets while they are in the program. It also is to include a courtyard for homeless who don’t want to sleep indoors, an auditorium, a chapel and a food service/fitness center/library building.