The car dealer planning to buy Homestead’s decrepit, city-owned bowling alley and turn it into a state-of-the-art Hyundai outlet was grilled by angry members of the City Council late Thursday, who said he was changing the plan he had agreed to just five months earlier.
Jay Rivchin, the operator of Dadeland Dodge, wanted the council to grant him concessions regarding the construction timetable and design.
Council members, saying they did not like being rushed, postponed action on Rivchin’s request for two weeks, after they peppered him with complaints.
Earlier this week, the Miami Herald reported that the project’s chief advocate on the council, Jimmie Williams III, had engaged Rivchin in more than 400 interactions (18 hours of talk-time) using his city-issued mobile device while the deal was being negotiated; in one written communication, Rivchin pressed Williams to get the reluctant city manager to hurry things up.
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Less than a week after the deal was sealed on April 30, the councilman engaged in talks with Rivchin regarding the purchase of a 2013 Chrysler 200 by Williams’ god-daughter, the article said. It also divulged a series of public records suggesting that Williams does not live in Homestead, which would make him ineligible to serve on the council.
Williams said he got no special considerations from the dealer.
The contract that Dadeland Dodge initially agreed to in April says that the dealership has until Sept. 28 to get its license.
The problem, according to Rivchin: Because the purchase of the property hasn’t closed, the state won’t grant him a license until the structure is built and passes inspection by the Department of Motor Vehicles. However, under the city contract, he cannot build the structure until he has a license. He asked the city to allow him to complete the purchase of the property, which would allow him to build without the license.
Before making any changes, council members wanted to know why the plan had changed from an all-new building to one that incorporated part of the existing bowling alley structure.
“When we first heard from your client, it was going be a beautiful, state-of-the-art, new dealership,” Councilwoman Judy Waldman said. “But in the middle of all this, I heard talk about you wanting the old plans for the bowling alley and building around the bowling alley; some talk about you using its shell. Is that true?”
Rivchin said it was true.
“With an intensive study with engineers, we found that if we use more than 73 percent of the [existing] building, the timing would be quicker and we would be able to meet the commitment,” Rivchin said. “The building is going to be bigger, better.”
Several council members said what they voted for was not what now was being proposed. Rivchin pressed the council to approve his changes. The council wasn’t ready.
“I’m gonna be honest with you, I’m ticked off. If a client promises brass doorknobs, that’s in the contract. If a client promises a sidewalk will be painted, that’s in the contract,” said Waldman, who works in real estate. “You’re thinking only of yourself, and not thinking about our judicial responsibility to the taxpayers.”
The bowling alley has been a municipal headache for years. Built in 1991, it was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew one year later. It reopened and operated for years before eventually closing and sliding into decay. The city bought it, and was determined to find a developer who would reopen it as a bowling alley. When those deals fizzled, the council opted for Rivchin’s proposal, calling for the site to be razed and rebuilt.
Councilman Jon Burgess said he wants to add language to the sales contract that would require Rivchin to stick to the renderings that were initially presented to council.
“I’m trying to protect 65,000 people that live here and own that property,” Burgess said, pointing at Rivchin. “ I’d rather build something that is going to be of quality and where the city is protected. We need to see a site plan. This doesn’t appear to be what I saw.”
Rivchin said that would conflict with his March 2016 deadline.
“Why is it difficult for you to commit to that?” Councilwoman Patricia Fairclough asked. “We’ve been very flexible and accommodating. You want us to help you but you are not helping us. I think you have to be more flexible or else this ship is going to sink real fast.”
At the end, the council decided to defer the matter to Oct. 13.
Williams, who did not address the news article, remained in support of the project, though he went along with the postponement. Waldman dissented, saying she is now has “trust issues” with the applicant.