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1/5/04 - Miami Herald
North Miami banks future on massive redevelopment
North Miami's redevelopment district, one of the largest in the
state, will incorporate upscale condos and affordable housing
By David Ovalle
As North Miami plans a massive redevelopment effort, city leaders are mindful of
the recent troubles plaguing nearby Miami's similar effort in Overtown.
Miami's Community Redevelopment Agency, charged two decades ago with revitalizing
Overtown, is under investigation by state and federal authorities, and critics say
it has done little to improve the troubled neighborhood. To avoid repeating those
mistakes, North Miami officials promise to scrutinize every dollar spent, keep meticulous
records and encourage public oversight.
And if North Miami's CRA carries out its task right, city planners say, this working-class
community of 60,000 people will get a face-lift that would make an aging movie star
Upscale condos will overlook Biscayne Bay. Old homes on the city's poorer west side
will be rebuilt. Clean, affordable housing will spring up. Rundown apartments on
Northeast Sixth Avenue will be torn down.
It's too early to calculate a precise dollar amount, but planners say that within
a decade North Miami's CRA could generate as much as $400 million, making it one
of the largest such development efforts in state history.
''As far as CRAs go, none in the county will come close to the social engineering
of this project,'' said North Miami City Attorney John Dellagloria, one of the agency's
chief planners. ``If this works, everyone associated with it will be able to take
pride in a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment.''
For the past several months, city planners and consultants have worked furiously
to launch the agency because they fear the state Legislature could change CRA laws
in the spring by taking control of redevelopment agencies away from cities and giving
it to counties.
ON TO THE COUNTY
The city last month approved the CRA's formation. Now, the agency needs approval
from the Miami-Dade County Commission, which could happen by early March.
The details of CRAs are complicated, full of dense techno-speak like ''tax increment
financing'' and ``eminent domain.''
But it boils down to this: When property values of downtrodden neighborhoods governed
by the CRA rise, the agency keeps most of that money instead of sending it to the
county or funding other city needs.
That means more money can be pumped back into those areas to redevelop homes and
No one disputes that North Miami could use a CRA.
In the past 13 years, the city's population has ballooned by about 10,000 people,
many of them poorer Haitian immigrants. In that time, only 646 new housing units
were built. The money-strapped city has to provide more services, but its tax base
In terms of size, North Miami's CRA would be one of the largest in the state --
it encompasses about 3,600 acres, roughly 60 percent of the city. By comparison,
South Miami's CRA, which includes the Sunset Place mall, is only 189 acres.
''The stakes are so much greater in North Miami,'' Councilman Scott Galvin said.
``If you screw something up, you're not just doing it in a parking lot here or there,
you're doing it in an entire city.''
And of all the land governed by North Miami's CRA, none is more important than the
193 acres just off Biscayne Boulevard and Northeast 151st Street.
There lies the economic engine of North Miami's CRA. Last year, the city signed
a much-ballyhooed deal with developer Michael Swerdlow to build at least 4,800 high-end
condominiums, a hotel, a town center and parks at the former landfill site.
The tax revenue generated by Biscayne Landing will be used to revamp other neighborhoods
in the CRA, which gets to keep the additional taxes generated when property values
By floating bonds with that money, the CRA in about a decade could pump as much
as $400 million into redevelopment, city officials say.
In essence, North Miami has banked its future on people snapping up bayside condos.
Supporters say Biscayne Landing is what sets North Miami's CRA apart from the one
in Miami, which has no similar economic catalyst.
''It's the Robin Hood approach,'' said Ricardo Noguera, the director of North Miami's
community planning and development department. ``Luxury will be used to redevelop
the more challenged parts of town.''
Still, the CRA's vast scope also means pitfalls abound. Miami's CRA has been criticized
for mismanagement, questionable business practices and squandered resources.
North Miami city officials say their agency will aggressively watch every penny
spent and keep administrative costs down.
They also want a CRA director who is ''beyond reproach,'' said Dellagloria, the
As in Miami, the City Council will double as the CRA board of directors. But unlike
Miami, North Miami's board will likely include residents.
And while many other CRAs focus on revamping business districts, North Miami's CRA
will focus mostly on residential areas.
''The money is needed more for housing than commercial,'' said resident Jo An Moore,
whose central North Miami condo has been ravaged by floods in recent years. ``I
think we should concentrate on the residents.''
Despite the rosy predictions by supporters, the North Miami CRA has drawn criticism
from the city's Haitian councilmen and mayor, who say that redevelopment will force
poor people from their homes.
During the CRA's first meeting last month, Mayor Joe Celestin and councilmen Jean
Monestime and Jacques Despinosse expressed concern about the agency's power of eminent
domain, which allows government agencies to buy private property even when the owner
does not want to sell.
FEARS OF DISPLACEMENT
They pointed to Overtown where hundreds of residents have been displaced under Miami's
The costly legal procedure, generally considered a last resort after negotiations
fail, is critical to redevelopment efforts because individual property owners can
hold up redesigns of an entire area by refusing to sell.
Nevertheless, city officials are confident that North Miami's CRA will succeed.
An attorney for the Florida Redevelopment Association, an independent association
that represents state redevelopment agencies, says CRAs are worth the risks.
''CRAs are supposed to be entrepreneurial and that means you're going to make mistakes,''
said David Cardwell, an Orlando-based attorney for the Florida Redevelopment Association.
``Often, unfortunately, you only hear about the ones that make mistakes.''