The Real Deal Miami

Liberty Square redevelopment moves forward with Related Urban

Commission vote followed five hours of public discourse

July 06, 2016 06:30PM
By Katherine Kallergis and Sean Stewart-Muniz

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Rendering of Related Urban's Liberty Square Rising development

Rendering of Related Urban’s Liberty Square Rising development

The redevelopment of Liberty Square and Lincoln Gardens into one of the largest affordable housing developments in Miami-Dade County is finally moving forward with a developer.

Related Urban Development Group’s bid for the mixed-use project received unanimous support by the Miami-Dade County Commission on Wednesday.

After more than five hours of public discourse, questions and demands, commissioners awarded the public/private project to Related Urban, which was competing with Atlantic | Pacific for the roughly $307 million development.

Built in the 1930s under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Liberty Square is among the country’s oldest public housing projects. It’s been in disrepair for decades and home to rampant crime, the commissioners said, calling the process to redevelop it “long overdue.”

While Atlantic | Pacific initially had scored higher by a selection committee, the company failed to provide a backup source of funding if the developer did not secure the 9 percent tax credit it was seeking.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez recommended Related Urban‘s proposal for approval at this meeting. “Nine percent financing is very difficult to get. They did not have a backup to that financing plan,” he said. 

Rendering of Atlantic Pacific's proposal

Rendering of Atlantic Pacific’s proposal

Ken Naylor, Atlantic | Pacific COO, said the bidding process was “not a level playing field. Atlantic Pacific offered better design, better community engagement and better economics to the county,” he told commissioners.

Arguably the most critical of the entire approval process was Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, whose district includes the public housing site.

“I had and still have [problems] with the selection process and the way the community has been handled. The longer the process was dragged out, the less transparent it has become,” Edmonson said. “One thing I do want is for this project to happen.”

Edmonson spoke at length about her issues with the process, including the exclusion of the Brownsville community and how little time she had to go through the proposals.

“This is a good project. I never said the developer was a horrible developer, I just said I didn’t like the way he handled my community,” she said during the meeting.

Edmonson requested the following amendments to the proposal: the imposition of liquidated damages for violations to the community development agreement; mentoring programs for small businesses; quarterly reports from RUDG to the commissioner and the commission; a shuttle service for residents; that minority and Section 3-owned businesses in the area are used when possible; a scholarship fund, and more.

Aerial rendering of Related's plan

Aerial rendering of Related’s plan

The county will invest about $46 million into the green-certified project, which will also include the following:

  • 40,000-square-foot grocery store
  • More than 1,500 residential units
  • 15,000 square feet of commercial space for mom and pop stores
  • 6,100 jobs to liberty square
    • 30 percent of those will go to residents of Liberty Square or other public housing
    • 75 percent of post-construction jobs will go to Liberty Square residents
  • Community center up to 30,000 square feet
  • Health center
  • Head start center for children
  • All units will feature central air conditioning, Energy Star appliances
Interior rendering of a unit at Related's proposal

Interior rendering of a unit at Related’s proposal

Related Urban will also be required to come back to the commission after it has met with Brownsville residents, who Edmonson said were left out of the process.

“It’s an understatement to say this has been mishandled since day one. It’s emblematic of something that we have countywide on almost all projects,” Commissioner Xavier Suarez said. “I think everything [the mayor has] done has been in good faith, but there was not enough community involvement since day one.”

Related Chairman CEO Jorge Perez came up to the dais several times during the meeting to reiterate his commitment to the community. He talked about his company’s experience as an affordable housing developer, which has developed more than 80,000 units over its 37-year history.

“We build many, many buildings, but many are just buildings,” Perez said. “This one would change a neighborhood.”