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5/19/02 - Miami News Today
Park West, Omni investors call for help from Miami officials
By Paola Iuspa
Just a few years after spending millions on abandoned buildings in Park West and
the west Omni area, property owners say their investments are at risk if city officials
don't intervene soon.
Lured by Miami officials' plans to revitalize the long-neglected neighborhoods abutting
Overtown, investors began moving in about five years ago.
While the area's success is thought to be anchored in a performing arts center now
under construction along Biscayne between 14th and 16th streets, investors want
the city to provide more parking, policing and sanitation to help attract tenants
to their remodeled commercial buildings.
But the city seems to be slow in doing its part to improve the area, property owners
said Monday at a meeting with City of Miami Commissioner Johnny Winton.
Some of those investors are forming a nonprofit, Omni-Park West Community Board,
to lobby elected officials and expedite short- and long-term solutions to problems
such as drug dealers, prostitutes, illegal dumping and dilapidated properties being
used as crack houses, said George Sanchez. He said he owns a Park West warehouse
he hopes to restore as an art gallery.
Gil Terem said his partnership owns four properties in Park West and has invested
about $6 million in the area. He said those problems are jeopardizing his investment.
He said having boarded-up, graffiti-painted buildings next door to his projects
doesn't create an inviting ambiance for tenants.
City officials said they have hired consultants to work on a master plan for the
Park West neighborhood. When completed late this year, the plan is likely to recommend
new land use and zoning intended to create a 24-hour community. Consultants are
also working on a plan to build an east-west pedestrian street between 10th and
11th streets, connecting the area with Bicentennial Park.
The Performing Arts Center Foundation of Greater Miami also completed a study this
year recommending land use for a radius of 10 blocks around the arts center, at
14th Street and Biscayne Boulevard. The next step is for the city to weigh in on
In the meantime, Mr. Terem said, some restaurant and club owners become interested
in Park West and the Omni west but often decide against opening their businesses
there after driving around the neighborhood.
"It is hard to find tenants if the area looks like this," Mr. Terem said
Monday as he and other six property owners met with Mr. Winton and city planners
to air their concerns.
Jason Beck, together with Avra Jain, members of a New York-based investment partnership
that owns more than 3 acres in Park West and the Omni area, said homeless persons
using the land are also threatening the area's livelihood.
Both areas, known as the entertainment district, lie west of Biscayne Boulevard,
east of Miami Avenue, south of I-395 and north of Seventh Street, next to the downtown
central business district.
Park West and west Omni are already home to at least four clubs, small hotels, art
studios and a planned bowling alley, said Mr. Terem, who said he had been in the
restaurant and club business in Israel and New York before moving to Miami three
"The Miami Downtown Development Authority promised us a lot," he said,
"so we came and brought other investors. The property values went up and now
we could sell and bail out. But we don't want to do that. We are interested in staying
and making it work."
The Downtown Development Authority, a nonprofit group with some city and county
officials sitting on its board, focuses on the marketing and development of downtown.
Mr. Terem said the values of his properties have gone from about $13 per square
foot to about $30 in the past four years.
Mr. Winton asked owners to list properties that need to be shored up and painted.
He said he would work with the group and the city's code enforcement team to go
after owners who neglect area buildings.
Mr. Winton also noted that Park West and Omni fall under the jurisdiction of the
city's Community Redevelopment Agency, which collects tax increment funds in both
areas. Tax increment funds are additions to taxes that Miami-Dade County collects
because of new or improved structures to reinvest in the same area.
Mr. Winton said many of the solutions were to come from the redevelopment agency,
which is headed by Commissioner Arthur Teele Jr., with city commissioners sitting
on the board. Annette Lewis, the agency's acting executive director, did not attend
City Manager Carlos Gimenez said he would ask the Florida Department of Transportation
to open the vacant land it owns beneath I-395 for parking. That site now is home
to homeless persons and piles of debris.
That would be a relief and help businesses blossom, said Mr. Sanchez, who said he
would not start remodeling his warehouse and open an art gallery until more parking
Bradley Knoefler, heading Stone Street Development and owner of Park West property,
said there is parking along Second Avenue, but many lot owners aren't willing to
sign long-term agreements because they are waiting for good offers to buy their
Mr. Gimenez said the city is studying its alternatives to deal with vagrants. The
city has been helping Camillus House, a homeless shelter in Park West, find a new
site. Camillus is still trying to secure a location in Wynwood, south of the Miami
Luis Melo, who owns seven buildings in the western Omni area, said street lighting
is also a problem and that the two blocks near the planned performing arts center
on Biscayne Boulevard have been in the dark for weeks.
Mr. Terem said the property owners would push for the creation of new economic incentives
to help attract residents and businesses.
The group expects to meet monthly.
Mr. Winton said he encouraged the group to pick a leader to attend ongoing meetings
with city-hired consultants working on a master plan for Park West and Biscayne