Standing on the sidewalk in front of Overtown’s under-renovation Lyric Theater on Wednesday, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson explained how she negotiated a better financial deal with developers who plan to transform the heart of the long-neglected neighborhood.
As she spoke, people only a few feet away begged for money and subtly threatened the owners of parked cars to pay them to watch the vehicles. At one point, when Edmonson spoke about the jobs that would be created by the development plan, a resident who was asked to stand next to the commissioner in support of the project began questioning Edmonson about who would get the jobs.
The difference between the wealthy developers and the Overtown’s neediest was stark.
“This is long-awaited and long overdue,” said Edmonson.
The plan, developed in response to a request for proposals from the city of Miami’s Community Redevelopment Agency for Overtown, calls for a mixed-use, mostly privately financed project spanning two long-vacant publicly owned lots on the east side of Northwest Second Avenue, between Northwest Sixth and Eighth streets. The blocks were once the site of some of the hotels and nightclubs that formed part of Overtown’s famed but long-gone Little Broadway jazz-centered entertainment district.
The city commission approved the proposal last month. But that happened only after Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, who represents Overtown, persuaded the two developers competing for the bid, All Aboard Florida and R. Donahue Peebles, to agree to split the project, with each one taking a block to develop separately. The overall project will include apartments, a 150-room hotel, offices, shops and restaurants and nightclubs, a mix meant to resuscitate the neighborhood’s jazzy urban vibe.
At the time, the developers agreed to pay a total of $5.5 million for the land, which Miami’s redevelopment agency had appraised at nearly $20 million, though some critics said the city was getting too little for the land.
Each team also agreed to contribute $1.25 million over 10 years to a fund to benefit the Overtown community. The Peebles team, meanwhile, would get a $3 million grant from the CRA to help build 60 affordable apartments.
Because the deal was part of a broader agreement with Miami-Dade County, which made the land available for redevelopment to the CRA, it also required county commission approval. Edmondson said she won an agreement from the developers for a larger return to public coffers and community benefits.
Under the new deal, approved by county commissioners on Tuesday, Peebles’ company and All Aboard Florida will each toss in an extra $2.5 million to the county for the land, and provide a total of $2.5 million more towards community improvements.
That means the plan must now go back to the CRA board for approval. The CRA faces a tight deadline imposed by Miami-Dade to get work started. The county retains the right to retake control of the two blocks if development doesn’t commence by mid-2015.
Irby McKnight, an Overtown activist who supports the plan, welcomed the deal.
“It rained this morning,” said McKnight. “But the sun is out now.”
Herald staff writer Andres Viglucci contributed to this report.