The Real Deal Miami

Miami seeks expanded redevelopment districts

By Erik Bojnansky | May 28, 2009 10:06AM

The City of Miami could approve a measure that would more than double the size of its two redevelopment districts, though it probably won’t mean more money for the revival of the Omni and Southeast Overtown/Park West areas.
 
City Commissioners will take up the issue today in a meeting that could end up increasing the area overseen by the Community Redevelopment Agency from 514 acres to as much as 1,181 acres.

However, as an unelected body funded by property taxes with the purpose of removing blight and slum and promoting economic development (including property values) within those two redevelopment districts, the move would have limited immediate effect on these same blighted neighborhoods.
 
Instead, the proposed expansion will allow the CRA to contribute $88 million for the digging of a $1 billion underwater tunnel for the Port of Miami’s truck traffic, $60 million for the $68 million transformation of Museum Park into Bicentennial Park and various other capital projects for areas outside the districts’ boundaries, such as fixing up streets and sidewalks.
 
“It is more about addressing areas of need and facilitating some of the major projects that are planned,” CRA Executive Director James Villacorta said.
 
Villacorta said he hopes the Miami-Dade County Commission will approve both expanded redevelopment districts by July.
 
Both districts are allotted 95 percent of the taxes collected from property value increases within their boundaries, money that normally would flow into the coffers of the city’s and county’s general funds. Those taxes, in turn, have to be spent on projects related to those two districts, including financial incentives for businesses and real estate developers.
 
Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, whose district includes Omni, says he is in favor of the expansion because it will help pay for the creation of Museum Park, a public-private project that once generated private real estate investment into the surrounding downtown area. However, Sarnoff worries that more developers may ask for tax rebates for their stalled projects, cutting funds for street or park improvements.
 
A property tax rebate of $20 million for developer Ignacio Garcia Du-Quesne has already been approved for Bayview Market, a $200 million retail and office project. Two more tax rebates are still pending: $16 million for Tibor Hollo’s $100 million Sonesta Mikado Hotel project and $7 million for Argent Venture’s $95 million-plus Omni Mall project. All three projects are located within Omni’s redevelopment district.
 
On top of that, Omni’s taxpayers are committed to pay off the county’s debt for the $484 million Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. Last year Omni’s 275 acres generated $14 million in tax revenue for the CRA while the 258 acres from Overtown/Park West gathered $7 million in property taxes.
 
The current and pending funding agreements won’t bankrupt the CRA, since the funds are to be paid out over several years, Villacorta emphasized. “We are not here to bank the money. We are here to jumpstart some development.”
 
The actual expansion of the Southeast Overtown/Park West had already been approved by the City Commission, Villacorta said. What is being discussed today is the masterplan for the additional 392 acres, which will include the new home for the Camillus House homeless shelter, a proposed research facility for the University of Miami, and a housing project for low-income families called Townpark Village.
 
Omni, meanwhile, is “a step behind,” Villacorta said, with the city only now talking about expanding that district another 275 acres to include the future Museum Park, where new facilities for Miami Art Museum and Miami Science Museum are being constructed, and part of Watson Island.
 
In past years, adding 667 acres would likely mean additional property tax dollars for the CRA within a couple of years. However, much of Omni’s proposed expansion includes public property. Moreover, Villacorta said, “It is unlikely property values will appreciate in the next few years,” especially in impoverished Overtown.
 
In spite of the promise of economic development and revitalization, or the possibility of government subsidies, Terry Salzman, senior vice president of SRS Real Estate Partners, doubts that the value of land parcels being considered by the CRA will skyrocket any time soon. “The performing arts center is the only positive construction inside the [Omni] district,” he said. “Beyond that there’s not a lot being done.”