After Hurricane Andrew ravaged the area, Homestead created a Community Redevelopment Agency to generate a steady stream of tax revenue to be used for improvements to downtown and the city’s equally blighted southwest section. The CRA raises a little more than $2 million a year.
Over the years, millions of those dollars have been squandered through bad business deals with the politically connected, according to a 2010 audit. The county audit tore into the city’s dealings with Steve Shiver, a former mayor and county manager of Miami-Dade who played an active role in multiple ill-fated initiatives.
A company he headed won a contract to develop a downtown park even though the selection committee picked someone else. Shiver protested and overturned the verdict.
Through his role heading a local nonprofit, Shiver oversaw a comically bungled “Holiday Home Makeover” project, going tens of thousands over budget. He farmed out a chunk of the work to his father, a longtime Florida City commissioner.
In 2007, Shiver convinced the Homestead CRA to give him $1.9 million for 4.2 acres of depressed real estate. It was called the “shotgun property,” because the land was covered with small, decrepit “shotgun-style” houses. In a solution that was pure Homestead, the independent CRA borrowed the money from the city to purchase the land, and planned to repay the loan with proceeds from the sale of another property: a bowling alley the city bought years earlier, after the hurricane. The bowling alley was paid for in part with CRA money, even though the agency is restricted to spending its money only within the redevelopment district’s boundaries, and the bowling alley is well outside those boundaries. The payback plan was like giving someone who owes you $20 a $20 bill so they could pay you back.
Trouble is, the bowling alley hasn’t sold, and the people proposing to buy it (including, recently, Shiver) are offering as little $500,000. The city insists that anyone who buys the property — currently dark, dank, shuttered, rat-infested and redolent of mold and mildew — reopen it as a bowling alley, since there are no lanes nearby.
Reached by phone, Shiver asked a Herald reporter to email him questions. The former mayor, who recently returned to Homestead after a failed attempt to revive a ghost town-themed amusement park in North Carolina, never responded to emailed questions.
Mayor and friends
Meanwhile, six years later, the city still can’t unload the shotgun property — despite Bateman’s attempt, over a dinner at Red Lobster, to sell it to his onetime business partner. Former CRA director Jordan Leonard, who was present at the meeting, told that to investigators when they were snooping around another of Bateman’s alleged schemes, one that involved claims that he directed Homestead staff to wipe out a $10,000 electric bill owed by a well-known resident. Bateman wasn’t charged in that investigation.
For a while, it looked like the city would rent the shotgun property to a developer friend of Bateman for $1 a year to build a charter school, but even that fell through.
In several other deals, those close to Bateman play lead roles. Including:
• Frank May: He has been a key player in Bateman’s political campaigns, and also happens to be the city’s PR consultant. That meant writing speeches, ghostwriting newspaper columns, and even cooking up jokes for Bateman, all on the taxpayers’ dime. May’s nonprofit also got yearly infusions of CRA money to manage the renovation of the historic Seminole Theater in downtown Homestead. Despite devouring more than $4 million in public and private money over more than 10 years, according to the county’s audit of the CRA, the theater remains gutted and empty. That debacle was blasted in the audit. The city got the last word, paying May $2,000 to ghostwrite a rebuttal.