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1/29/02 - Miami Herald
PROPOSAL WOULD SKIP RAIL PROJECT BIDDING
By Karl Ross
Derailing the county's normal contracting process, two Miami-Dade commissioners
are asking their colleagues to award deals to redevelop land surrounding the Okeechobee
and Northside Metrorail stations to firms they've preselected.
Proposals to build low-income housing and retail on land flanking the stations are
due Friday. So far, 76 interested developers picked up bid applications, county
records indicate, although there's no telling how many will submit formal proposals.
That open-bidding process, however, would be circumvented if the County Commission
approves a resolution today sponsored by Commissioners Natacha Seijas and Dorrin
Rolle. The Okeechobee Station is within Seijas' district, the Northside Station
Rolle defended the action, saying it was intended to spark more economic assistance
to needy communities. Seijas did not return several phone calls to her office Monday
requesting comment on her sponsorship of the resolution.
County Manager Steve Shiver thinks the resolution is misguided. In a memorandum
he issued to commissioners, Shiver noted ``there is clearly a strong interest''
among developers in the county's Nov. 19 request for proposals (RFP) inviting firms
to compete for the Metrorail awards.
``The proposal process should continue because the RFP was carefully developed to
ensure that the project proposing the highest and best use for each property is
selected,'' Shiver stated in the memo. ``It is staff's opinion that the competitive
RFP process will yield the highest best use.''
As the deal is presently structured, the county's Transit Department would share
in rental income generated by the Metrorail projects, officials said.
If the resolution sponsored by Seijas and Rolle is approved, it would mean a windfall
two nonprofit entities -- Jubilee Community Development Corp. and Metro Miami Action
Plan (MMAP). Those entities, because they lack the resources and expertise in-house,
would team up with for-profit builders to carry out the projects.
``The question is, who should get the profit from the development -- the nonprofits,
or the Transit Department?'' asked the county's transit director, Danny Alvarez.
``I'm selfish. I say let it accrue to Transit instead of letting it accrue to these
Alvarez added this ``participatory rent'' can range from $30,000 a year to revenues
in excess of $1 million projected for a similar Metrorail development at the site
of the Coconut Grove station.
Rolle said he intervened in the Metrorail award because he saw an opportunity to
help a nonprofit agency serving predominantly black neighborhoods. Rolle said awarding
the contract to MMAP, which he feels is underfunded, increases the likelihood that
black-owned construction firms get more public-sector work in the inner city.
``I'm trying to put some economic development in the hands of a fledgling organization
such as MMAP,'' Rolle said. ``If it doesn't work out, I tried.''
A county-affiliated entity, MMAP receives nearly all of its operating funds from
the county general fund, about $1.5 million a year. The group's new president and
CEO, Vincent Brown, said that for the past 18 years, MMAP has been advising nonprofit
developers. Now the agency wants to get in the development game itself.
``By allowing us to take advantage of this opportunity, it would allow MMAP to reduce
its dependency on general fund dollars,'' Brown said.
Brown said the agency has no prior experience managing real estate projects but
would join with a private developer, sharing in the proceeds.
``We don't have a partner yet, because we don't want to taint the process,'' Brown
MMAP's counterpart, Jubilee CDC, has already linked up with a for-profit firm, Carlisle
Builders. Among the firm's corporate officers is Bruce Greer, husband of Pinecrest
Mayor Evelyn Greer.
Bruce Greer declined comment, saying he was ``only an investor'' in the firm.
The Rev. Jimmy Brown, a Jubilee board member and pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church,
confirmed Carlisle's involvement, saying his group has worked with the developer
in the past.
A retired Miami-Dade police chief, Brown said he was not aware of any ploy on Jubilee's
part to subvert the contracting process but added the inner workings of county government
remain a mystery.