Published: June 24, 2007Liberty City
Harvey Robinson, in his Liberty City welding shop, wonders whether a biotech park is really coming. 'the people around here don't know what to do,' he said. 'Are we getting moved out or not?' (Carl Juste/Miami Herald)
False starts frustrate those who watch, wait
People who live and work in the Poinciana neighborhood have waited years for the growth, jobs and redevelopment promised decades ago.

Harvey Roberson arrives at his welding shop just after dawn and toils until dusk, fabricating wrought-iron gates and fences, making deliveries and drumming up new business.

He started the enterprise in 1972, and like many of the other small-business owners and families in the neighborhood, he has seen the area thrive, burn and then fade into obscurity.

Two years ago, a huge air-conditioned tent went up in the empty lot across the street. Then a band showed up along with security guards, caterers and a handful of politicians.

They were there to shovel the first pile of dirt for a biopharmaceutical park that was supposed to remake the entire neighborhood. Rumors began to fly up and down the block about how the project would force families and businesses from the area.

But two years later, the land across the street from Roberson's shop is still empty.

''Ain't nothing happening,'' he said. ``The people around here don't know what to do. Are we getting moved out or not?''

Unlike the out-of-town developer who landed millions in tax money, Roberson has never received assistance for his small business, which employs three people and has been around for three decades.

''I could use some help,'' Roberson said.

Leavy and Harriett Collins have lived next door to Roberson's welding shop for more than 30 years.

They moved from a housing project in 1974, buying their property for $11,000. Harriett's brother built the single-story house from scratch, and she used her green thumb to plant bougainvillea, vegetables, and citrus and avocado trees.

The Collins family - including Leavy, left, Harriett and their son Donald - lives next door to the welding shop. They, too, are concerned about the status of the biotech project across the street. (Carl Juste/Miami Herald)


She and Leavy raised three boys there. Now they are seeking to sell. "We don't want to go," Harriett said. ``But we have no choice. They want the land."

The Collinses don't know much about the status of the biotech project. No one from the county has come by to discuss it with them.

"We went on the Internet and saw what they plan to do," said Donald Collins, Harriett and Leavy's youngest. "From what we learned, we're right smack dab in the middle of it.'"

This isn't the first time the county has had plans for the neighborhood.

In the 1980s and 1990s, local leaders pumped millions into the area to build an industrial park that was supposed to create 1,000 jobs.

Larry Adams owns the house next door to the Collinses and remembers the previous promises. For nearly five years, he couldn't make improvements to his home because the county planned to take the land and wouldn't issue permits.

''I would love to see this amount to something, mainly because it would bring a lot of jobs to the area,'' Adams said of the biotech park. ``But I don't want to go through what I did in the '80s.''

Like the others in the neighborhood, Skip Marvel has seen plans for the area come and go. His family has operated Bohnert Sheet Metal in Miami since 1912. They moved the business to Liberty City in 1967, around the corner and down the block from Adams, Roberson and the Collinses.

''It seems every four or five or six years, a new developer comes in or a new plan is proposed, but nothing ever happens,'' said Marvel, who employs 11 people.


After the project stalled and faded away, weeds grew taller than toddlers and abandoned buildings provided sanctuary for the homeless, who rummaged through heaps of trash strewn across one of the largest brownfields in Florida.

''The dumping was so bad, we couldn't get past the garbage,'' Marvel said.

Now he wonders if he's watching the same thing happen again.

Bohnert Sheet Metal is across the street from where a parking garage is supposed to be going up -- one the county agreed to purchase for as much as $23 million. But the only progress Marvel has seen in nearly a year is land leveled and piles of dirt moved around.

Nothing else is under construction.

If the project ever gets fully built, Bohnert Sheet Metal would have to move, an expense that would mark the end of a company that relies on heavy machinery to fabricate custom doors, cabinets and other products for its customers.

''We'd be finished,'' said Marvel, who represents the family's fourth generation running the business. ``But it looks like we're a long way from having to worry about that.''