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Homestead to put bowling alley back on the market

Homestead is once again seeking developers’ proposals for its long-shuttered, decaying bowling alley.

After failing to finalize a contract for the facility with a company represented by a former Homestead mayor, the City Council went back to the drawing board.

The council voted 4-2 on Tuesday to direct city staff to solicit proposals from developers for the city-owned facility at 111 S. Homestead Blvd.

Homestead has long been trying to re-open the alley, which has been shuttered since about the mid-2000s.

Through the years, the city has made several unsuccessful attempts to sell the property.

In December, the city came close. Homestead was one step away from sealing the deal with a company represented by former city Mayor Steve Shiver.

The bowling alley and Shiver are both tied to a controversial Homestead land deal made in the past. Years ago, Shiver convinced the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency to buy from him dilapidated housing in the city for $1.9 million. The CRA borrowed the money from the city.

The repayment plan was unusual — and rather circular. Once the city sells the bowling alley, it is to give the proceeds back to the CRA, and the CRA will then repay the city.

For the city to break even, the bowling alley would have to sell for $1.9 million.

Shiver stepped forward as a registered lobbyist for a company, Elite Real Estate Investments, which offered $500,000 for the property. The company proposed to open the bowling lanes as well as a restaurant, a fitness center and a video arcade.

All that was left to do was approve the contract between the city and Elite. But at the last minute, Councilwoman Patricia Fairclough-McCormick, who had supported of Elite's proposal all along, said she had qualms about the process of the transaction and called for staff to put out a formal solicitation request.

When municipalities have projects on the table, anything from resurfacing local playgrounds to bigger endeavors like a bowling alley renovation, they may put out a more formal request seeking applications from developers or contractors. These formal requests could be referred to as requests for proposals (RFPs) or requests for qualifications (RFQs).

At the time, however, Homestead did not put out these requests, staff said during the meeting. Instead, staff reached out to potential developers and asked them to put in a proposal if they are interested in the property.

“Not to say that it wasn’t fair,” said Fairclough-McCormick at the December meeting. “It just wasn’t formal.”

Shiver and Councilwoman Judy Waldman disagreed.

"This property has been on the market for so many years," said Waldman. "It didn't need to go out for an RFP because people came to you."

Shiver said that there have been formal requests issued for this property in the past, including an RFQ, an invitation to negotiate and a request for a public auction of the facility.

“If you don’t like me or if you don’t like one person on our team, don’t hold it against this gentleman,” he said, pointing to Dr. Carlos Sanchez, the surgeon who owns Elite as well as a Days Inn adjacent to the bowling alley.

“I don’t make decisions based on who is on the team,” Fairclough-McCormick responded. "I do things the way they are supposed to be done. If you are that passionate about the project, resubmit.”

The City Council could not arrive at a decision in December – it neither approved Elite’s contract nor issued a formal applications solicitation.

When the council reconvened last Tuesday, it arrived at a consensus to direct staff to issue a formal solicitation.

Sanchez, Elite’s owner, has told the Miami Herald he does not plan to apply for the bowling alley project again.

The parameters of the newly issued RFP: The applicant must open a bowling alley rather than, for example, a shopping mall or an indoor soccer field. The developer must guarantee that he will run the facility as a bowling alley for eight years. Both lease and purchase options will be considered. The application will remain open for about three months.

The two dissenting votes Tuesday night were Vice Mayor Stephen Shelley and Councilman Jon Burgess, who wanted to make the application solicitation less restrictive and allow for other types of uses of the property aside from bowling.

"If you are very restrictive, people are always going to call into question whether or not you've got the best deal," said Shelley.

Previous proposals to re-open the bowling alley have come in at between $500,000 and $900,000, added Shelley. That price is much lower than the land's 2012 appraised value of $2.6 million.

"I don't know if we are going to get much better of an offer if we limit it to bowling alley only," he said.

Follow @LidiaDinkova on Twitter.

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