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Miami Herald - 4/22/04

Miami and Miami-Dade County consider nearly $170 million in incentives for a residential-commercial project planned at an old railyard site in the city.

By Andres Viglucci and Oscar Corral

The developers of Midtown Miami, the massive residential and commercial project on the site of the old Buena Vista railyard, are seeking nearly $170 million in public subsidies from the city and Miami-Dade County to build parking, streets and sewers on the vacant property.

If approved, it would be among the largest incentive packages to a private developer in city history, officials say. The city would put up about $100 million over 30 years in a 60-40 percent split with the county.

The deal would allow the developers to use property taxes generated by the development to pay off loans and bonds that would finance more than $77 million in infrastructure construction on the site, now an unimproved, bare 56-acre plot.


The package, which public officials and the developers say is critical to making the $1.2 billion redevelopment project work, has advanced to the cusp of approval with little public fanfare.

The Miami-Dade Commission's economic development committee approved the deal Wednesday, and the proposal will come up for discussion before the City Commission today as a last-minute addition to the regular meeting agenda.

While a City Commission vote is not expected until next week, the developers are pushing for quick approval, citing pending financial transactions that hinge in part on the incentives.

Miami officials say the deal would pay off handsomely for the city. If fully built, Midtown Miami would generate hundreds of jobs and more than $400 million in property taxes for the city alone over 30 years, the life of the proposed subsidy, said Miami's chief financial official, Linda Haskins.

''I don't think we've ever had a project that generated this much redevelopment of an area critically in need of revitalization in the history of the city,'' Haskins said. ``We have the ability to have the county help us in doing that. We create jobs for the area. It's huge.''

The proposal enjoys strong support from Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and Commissioner Johnny Winton, whose district includes the property.

''This will be recognized nationally as a classic private-public partnership to bring in a project of major impact to a community,'' Diaz said.

''This whole thing is being crafted so that the project itself over the long haul funds the infrastructure,'' Winton said.

``This way it's not coming out of the hide of the taxpayers citywide.''


City officials are banking on Midtown Miami to revitalize the adjacent Wynwood neighborhood, one of the city's poorest, and to solidify the resurgence of the Biscayne Boulevard corridor and the Design District to the north.

The project calls for 3,000 dwellings, most in high-rises bordering the still-existing railroad tracks on its east border, and close to 600,000 square feet of commercial space bordering Miami Avenue -- most, if not all, already leased out, according to the developers.


Developers Diversified Realty, which is developing the commercial half of the project, hopes to complete it by 2006.

The public money would come directly from rising tax revenues from the development, and the developers would get it only if construction progresses, Haskins said.

Dan Pfeffer, a principal in Mid-Town Equities, which is part owner of the land, said the benefits from the Midtown development to the city and county far outweigh any costs.

''The city and county wind up with a lot of money going into their pockets,'' Pfeffer said.