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Miami Dade College may take over Homestead business incubator

More than a year ago, Homestead officials kicked out the operator of a small-business incubator that operated out of a city-owned building.

The move came after a county investigation found that the operator of the Carrie P. Meek Center, 301 Civic Court, had applied for – and received – nearly $1 million in federal grants despite having its nonprofit status revoked. As a condition to receive the grants, the center had to be designated as a nonprofit. The Carrie P. Meek Center’s operator also failed to carry the proper insurance, prompting the state to issue a stop work order.

Since then, the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency has been responsible for the Carrie P. Meek Center. The Homestead CRA is funded by the city and county and uses the money to revitalize historic downtown Homestead and the city’s Southwest district.

Now, Miami Dade College Homestead Campus wants to lease and operate the Carrie P. Meek Center. MDC has proposed to lease the building for 40 years at $1 per year.

At its meeting Tuesday night, the City Council, sitting as the CRA board, gave Homestead staff approval to continue negotiations with MDC for the operation and programming of the center.

But some CRA board members are concerned about the kinds of programs MDC plans to implement and about how much say the CRA board would have in the matter.

Board member Jimmie Williams III, who is the council liaison for the center, said that what MDC has proposed so far differs from the center’s current work.

For years, the center offered subsidized office space and helped new businesses set up shop in the community. It was mainly funded through federal and CRA grants.

While MDC has not revealed an official plan, Homestead Campus President Jeanne Jacobs told the CRA that the college plans to provide workshops, educational seminars, credit and noncredit programs “specifically geared toward the small-business community.”

“We propose those types of programs that would bring the small-business community into that center. There would be mentoring programs, one-stop resources. How do I develop a business plan? We believe we can assist in that kind of thing,” she added.

Williams’ response?

“This is certification classes she is talking about,” he told the Miami Herald after the CRA meeting. “What Dr. Jacobs is trying to do is bringing in a more academic kind of style. The business incubator helped businesses immigrate to the community. I did not hear that in their proposal. Their proposal is not to help the businesses actually take off the ground. The other issue is, what are they going to charge for those services?”

Williams and other board members also said they want to have a say on what MDC proposes in terms of programs at the Meek Center before a final contract is approved.

“I want to hear everything that was proposed and get to weigh in on it as well,” said Vice Chairman Stephen Shelley.

Jacobs told the board that she agrees it is important for Homestead, MDC and the local business community to work together when coming up with programs for the center.

Tuesday night’s CRA vote was not a final agreement between the city and MDC but merely gave the green light for Homestead staff and the college to further discuss the matter.

MDC was involved with the Meek center when it first opened in 2003. The college received grants to run programs at the center, but then the grants ran out and MDC discontinued its involvement.

The college also has a Carrie P. Meek Entrepreneurial Education Center in Liberty City. That center is an outreach of MDC’s North Campus, and it offers students credit and noncredit classes as well as workshops, seminars and vocational programs that focus on entrepreneurship and business, according to its website.

The Liberty City center as well as Homestead’s center are both named after retired U.S. Rep. Carrie P. Meek, a Miami Democrat who helped secure the money for both centers to open.

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