Miami wants millions back if mega-deal unravels
By Risa Polansky
If Miami-Dade County won't uphold its end of a 2007 mega-deal for a potpourri of projects — fine, Miami officials say. But the city then wants its millions back.
A county commission vote today (1/21) could bring a showdown between the local governments over the "global agreement" that paved the way for a Marlins stadium, with the city ready to demand back payouts to the downtown performing arts center if the county doesn't make good on its promise to expand the Omni Community Redevelopment Agency.
The so-called mega-deal calls for expanding the Miami agency's bounds to include Bicentennial Park and Watson Island so the city can use money generated in the area to help create a Museum Park and fund its $50 million share of $1 billion port tunnels, both key elements of the pact.
Redevelopment areas raise funds for revitalization by capping property values and, as they rise, collecting the tax increment generated above the cap.
The city agreed to pay from the Omni agency $1.43 million a year plus 35% of revenues above that to help cover arts center construction debt for Miami-Dade, freeing county money for the baseball stadium, the 2007 contract says.
In the two years since, the agency has paid the county about $11.7 million, with almost $6 million more due in March.
But the county has yet to OK the Omni expansion.
Commissioners deferred a decision in November and are set to vote today.
Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado plans to be there.
Denying expansion would be a global agreement "breach," he said at a city meeting last week.
Under the agreement, the city agency will be paying the county up to $25 million a year for the next 20 years, the mayor said.
His message to county commissioners: "If you don't want to extend the CRA boundaries, fine. Just give us back the money and we'll all be happy."
It's unclear if the county would have to return the funds, since no escape clause is spelled out.
And after approving the global pact, commissioners amended redevelopment agency doctrine to provide for the payouts.
The outcome of today's county vote is also uncertain. In November, commissioners resisted the expansion.
Because some taxes generated in the Omni area would come from the county, it seems "you're using some of our money to put in $50 million" for the tunnel, Carlos Gimenez said at the time.
Katy Sorenson said that, while county commissioners approved the tunnel, they never agreed the city should pay its share using money designated to improve a blighted area.
But since 2007 "it was very clear that the city was counting on Omni CRA funds," City Manager Pete Hernandez told them.
Meanwhile, the county already has plans for the money freed by the Omni's payments toward arts center debt.
Though the mega-deal says those funds would be used for a stadium, county officials have cried misconception and insist it was always meant to support arts center operations.
Commissioners are to consider today cementing that policy, as well as earmarking some of the freed funds for New World Symphony campus construction.