All but a fraction of a $350,000 public contribution by the operator of Bayside Marketplace to help spur “economic development” in Liberty City may pay to renovate a single Seventh Avenue restaurant that promises to create a culinary and tourist destination — and just two permanent jobs.
Late Tuesday, board members of Miami's quasi-independent Liberty City Community Revitalization Trust reversed course and moved to award up to $317,000 to Shantel’s lounge, a 2,500-square-foot eatery just north of Northwest 54th Street. The restaurant and jazz cafe, owned by Edward Colebrook, and serves up Caribbean cuisine and soul food. It is the occasional spot for Miami campaign parties.
Trust leaders believe that with the money, Colebrook’s venue will become a much-needed upper tier eatery and nightlife spot in Liberty City. A grant application shows an estimated $222,000 will pay for renovations, $35,000 will pay for furniture and upgraded tables and chairs, and $40,000 will go toward the creation of a cook and server's position.
“There was a time that black restaurants and entertainment centers were prevalent in the community. Unfortunately those establishments are figures of the past,” Tyrone Coverson, a city of Miami liaison, said during Tuesday’s meeting. “We hope to, with the Trust, start a new era to allow Shantel’s to be a beacon of future restaurants and entertainment centers.”
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We hope to allow Shantel’s to be a beacon of future restaurants and entertainment centers
Tyrone Coverson, city of Miami liaison
The money to be given to Colebrook comes from General Growth Properties, which agreed in the summer of 2014 to pay a lump sum to the city of Miami's Liberty City Trust as part of a deal to allow for the expansion of Bayside Marketplace and the development of the SkyRise observation tower. GGP LP Bayside Marketplace LLC cut the city a $350,000 check in September 2014. And in May, the Liberty City Trust solicited bids for a small business grant program with an emphasis on the “ability to become a tourism destination.”
More than a dozen bidders applied, including a fish market, catering business and lawn service company.
But when Trust leaders recommended in July that only Colebrook receive money, they experienced a backlash from the losing bidders.
That was really a farce. A complete waste of time
LaVerne Holliday, of Curley’s House of Style
“That was really a farce. A complete waste of time,” said LaVerne Holliday, assistant executive director of Curley’s House, a struggling food pantry that wanted $50,000 for a senior and elderly home-bound program.
The volunteer board also had heartburn at the idea of giving the entire pot to Colebrook, and chose not to give money to anyone. When the Trust reconvened in September, minutes show board members chose to meet again to redraft the competitive solicitation for small business grants, in part to move away from the emphasis on tourism.
But instead of starting the process over, Liberty City Trust President Elaine Black recommended once again Tuesday that the board award more than $300,000 to Shantel’s lounge. In the meantime, Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon, who negotiated the Bayside grant and appoints all but one member of the Trust’s board, successfully sought the city commission’s permission to remove the two members who vocally bucked Black's recommendation in September.
Black said Tuesday that she did review the bidding process, as directed by the previous board. But she said her belief that the money was best given to Colebrook remained firm, and the newly constituted board agreed.
“There was a review of the process, and I made a decision to go along with my recommendation,” she said after Tuesday's meeting.
Colebrook attended Tuesday’s meeting and spoke briefly. He said his business was being criticized not because of the merits of his plans, but because of its location in Miami’s District 5, which includes Liberty City and Overtown.
“I was in a meeting [in] Overtown, and City Hall, they gave an organization, a brewery, $400,000 and no one in the audience rebelled,” he said, likely referencing a federal loan recently awarded the Wynwood Brewery. “Unfortunately, every time someone or the city wants to put money into District 5, they come out of the woodwork.”
Miami commissioners must ultimately approve any grant awarded Colebrook by the Liberty City Trust. Black said the details of the grant agreement will become firmer during negotiations.