Skyrise, college, Overtown project hit county jackpot
The Miami-Dade County Commission on Tuesday approved the allocation of an aggregate $20 million of taxpayer funds to three privately developed projects, including the 1,000-foot Skyrise tower to rise at Bayside Marketplace.
The commission’s approval comes as contention broils over the allocation of taxpayer funds to these as well as to a slew of other private developments in the county.
The money is part of the 2004 voter-approved $2.9 billion general obligation bond program, known as Building Better Communities, that provides taxpayer-supported bond debt funding for approved projects.
A pot of that money, $75 million, is designated for projects that promise economic development within a community and that are to use their allocations specifically for infrastructure improvements, such as water and sewer connections, roadway work and utilities upgrades.
Months ago, when county staff brought the first batch of economic development funds applications in front of the commission, some commissioners raised issues over the process of selecting applicants. Specifically, some commissioners have expressed concern as to what process staff followed in selecting applicants to come up for a vote in front of the commission.
Since then, county staff, which retracted its backing for some of the applicants, has also reiterated that developers won’t receive the funds until they show their projects have created a previously agreed-upon number of jobs.
“If these projects are approved, the projects must hit their targets,” Mayor Carlos Gimenez told commissioners Tuesday.
That wasn’t enough for some commissioners.
Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa said that in other similar county programs, the private sector would show it has created a number of jobs when county inspectors show up. A month or so later, she added, things were different.
“Investigators would go, ‘Oh, 50 jobs. Wonderful! Here’s the money,’” Ms. Sosa said. “Then, two weeks later, no investigations, no jobs. And we have a lot of those in this county.”
The commission on Tuesday approved the $9 million allocation for Skyrise, the asymmetrical tower developed by Jeff Berkowitz, for public infrastructure.
Also green-lighted Tuesday for bond debt funds: a $5 million allocation to Larkin Health Science Campus, a for-profit university campus in South Miami-Dade with a focus on graduate schools in the life sciences field; and a $6 million allocation to Overtown Gateway, a mixed-use, mixed-income project to rise in Overtown.
Other projects are also awaiting approval from the same pot of money, including a startup that wants $10 million in bond debt funds for infrastructure improvements needed to build a comprehensive film complex just west of the City of Miami Gardens.
Some commissioners said they liked the projects up for a vote Tuesday but voted ‘no’ based on their conviction that the selection process was flawed.
“In order to do this, we have to increase taxes because this is a bond, so this will be a tax increase to the community for things that could be very good but at this moment of recovery it could be very tough,” Chairwoman Sosa said.
“This is a GOB [general obligation bond] that the people understood exactly what they were voting for… knowing full well that there was the issuance of bonds paid from ad valorem revenues,” Mayor Gimenez responded.
Added Commissioner Dennis Moss, who sponsored the legislation for the Larkin allocation: “Clearly, if we had to do this over, then maybe we would have taken a different path. I think that in the future, that’s something we may want to take a look at.”