Jobs projects won Beacon Council OKs
Written by Lidia Dinkova on January 7, 2015
The Beacon Council, a public-private organization that’s charged with the economic development of Miami-Dade County, has for years been involved with a county program where taxpayer funds are allocated to private projects that promise to create jobs in Miami-Dade.
Known as the economic development fund, the program is a $75 million pot of money, chunks of which are to be awarded to promising economic development projects. The money comes from a 2002 general obligation bond issue totaling $2.9 billion. The Beacon Council is to serve as an advisor to the county government on its decision of whether to allocate the economic development money to the applicants, said Larry Williams, the council’s president and CEO.
Recently, much contention has been brewing over the program after the county commission approved the $9 million allocation to Skyrise, a 1,000-foot entertainment tower to rise on Miami’s bayfront, as well as the $13.5 million allocation to an entertainment complex in South Miami-Dade and the $5 million allocation for a health science campus also in South Dade.
While Mr. Williams said the Beacon Council supported these fund allocations on the basis that these projects would have a significant economic impact, former Beacon Council President and CEO Frank Nero said he thinks these weren’t the types of projects the economic development funds were meant for.
When the $75 million economic development funds program was created, the projects that would be deserving of a fund allocation were to be large ones that would bring in a significant number of permanent high-paying jobs to the county, Mr. Nero said.
For example? A large company’s headquarter relocation to Miami-Dade County, such as the recent Mercedes-Benz relocation of its US headquarters to Atlanta .
The company was offered up to $50 million in incentives to relocate its US base to Atlanta, according to media reports.
“Those are the kinds of game-changing projects that were envisioned. Why wouldn’t we want that? If they put $45 million on the table – I mean, we had $75 million,” Mr. Nero said, adding that Miami-Dade should have at least been in the race to be the new Mercedes-Benz home.
In addition, deserving projects would be large enough that they would yield a significant amount in property taxes.
“The idea was that it would create incremental taxes that in essence would be self-amortizing with the cost of the bond,” Mr. Nero said.
Requirements for the economic development funds program state that allocations shouldn’t be less than $10 million – a way to designate these funds for large-scope projects.
But many applicants sought, and obtained, a waiver from this rule from the county commission.
Mr. Williams told Miami Today that the Beacon Council supported the Skyrise and the Miami Wilds projects.
“We were very supportive of Skyrise. We did some analysis of them based on all of the investment and all of the jobs created and we supported them,” Mr. Williams said. “It’s going to really have a positive impact on the county – it’s a significant amount of capital investment as well as the jobs, the temporary and the permanent jobs.”
Miami Wilds, he added, is an investment in an area of the county that would stand to gain from this project. That entertainment complex is to rise in South Miami-Dade beside ZooMiami.
Skyrise developer Jeff Berkowitz has said that his project on the bay downtown would create 5,000 jobs during construction and 15,000 jobs annually once the tower is operating.
By comparison, the Mercedes-Benz relocation to Atlanta is said to generate 1,000 jobs in the future.
But the Skyrise jobs won’t be the kinds of high-paying jobs required for an economic development funds allocation, Mr. Nero said.
“Most of these jobs are going to be construction jobs. Those are short-term jobs, a lot of them are going to be minimum-wage jobs,” Mr. Nero said.
Mr. Williams said that to his recollection, the Beacon Council in his tenure hasn’t ever shot down an applicant for economic development funds. The council’s role in this is to act as an advisor to the county commission on the applications, but the commission has final say on whether applicants receive the funds.
“The ones we’ve reviewed, we’ve seen very positive investment and job creation,” Mr. Williams said, “and we think they’re good economic development projects.”