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4/5/04 - Miami Herald

Housing project begins to take shape in Opa-Locka

Developers will soon start building an 80-unit town house complex in Opa-locka -- a $10 million investment they say will spur economic growth.

By Trenton Daniel

Some of Opa-locka's housing conditions currently look something like this: Slumping one-story duplexes, rundown apartment complexes, front yards filled with a collection of parked cars.

But a Miami-Dade developer plans to make at least part of it look something like this: Brightly painted stucco facades, Arabian Nights architectural motifs that echo those of City Hall, leafy, clean streets and a canal promenade that invite Sunday-morning strolls.

The Praxis Group is just a few weeks away from starting to build on an 80-unit town house complex called Superior Gardens III at 2240 NW 135th Ter. Construction on the $10 million project will come in four phases, the first to begin in the next two to three weeks and the fourth and final stage to be completed by February 2005.

Each two-story unit will be 1,250 square feet with three bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms. A fence with one main entrance will help keep the families -- the majority of them from the community -- feeling secure and safe.

Each town house unit will cost $150,000 to purchase.

Praxis developers say the combination of their efforts -- offering affordable housing through the Miami-Dade Housing Agency and accredited financial institutions -- and Opa-locka's central location -- will prove ideal for not only helping some of the city's struggling residents but also for luring outside investors.

The project will also, they say, benefit from a development growth in Miami-Dade and adjacent counties in recent years.

''When we decided to start doing something in Opa-locka, we did careful research,'' Tomas Sinisterra, president of the Praxis Group, said Friday.

''What we found out is that Opa-locka has so much potential in view of what's going to happen in the area. Opa-locka is right in the middle of Miami-Dade. We call it the golden triangle,'' he said, referring to the city's location roughly in the center between Miami International and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airports and near Opa-locka airport.

''Opa-locka has the best location,'' Sinisterra said. ``So, it's going to be a matter of time. We see here as a strong opportunity to bring quality development and a quality of life.''

Along with the pair of Town Center Properties office buildings under construction in downtown Opa-locka, the town house complex represents another of the development endeavors that have eluded the city for some 15 years.

The project started rolling in July 2002 when the Praxis Group approached Opa-locka to request zoning changes and the city gave the firm the final go ahead in September 2003, Sinisterra said.

To be sure, Opa-locka proved to be a tough sell because of a history of crime and allegations of corruption. But that was only during the initial phase, said Ray Barrantes, who works in sales for Praxis.

''At first, yes, the big stigma of Opa-locka was there,'' Barrantes said in the company's sales office on Opa-locka Boulevard, ``but [the city] made a big effort to clean up. So far, so good.''

Others say the project will benefit the area in other ways, such as greater homeownership, which will, in turn, yield cleaner neighborhoods and lower crime rates.

''I think affordable housing is always a significant boost to the economic stability of the community and to the civic partnership of its citizens,'' Willie Logan, president of the Opa-locka Community Development Corp., and a former state representative, said Friday.

``Individuals who own homes tend to participate in their neighborhoods, and in crime-watch groups. . . . [Homeownership] improves the quality of life in the neighborhood.''

Logan, who recently announced he will seek the Miami-Dade County Commission seat being vacated by Betty Ferguson, worked as a consultant on the project, serving as a liaison between the city and community, after working as a partner.

Messages left Friday for Opa-locka Mayor Myra Taylor and city commissioners seeking comment on the project were not returned.