A bill filed in the Florida Senate seeks to assist small businesses in Little Havana hit hard by street repairs along Flagler and Southwest First streets that have been going on for more than a year.
SB 182 was filed last week by Miami Democrat Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, whose district includes Little Havana. It calls for subsidies to mitigate the economic impact of the street repairs on the small businesses in the area.
The bill also seeks to improve the way the Florida Department of Transportation handles large street repair projects, to lessen their impact on nearby businesses.
“These roadway repairs are very important and will help the businesses in the long run, but while construction is under way they can have a negative impact on the small businesses, which are vital to our community,” Rodriguez said. “We need to establish better ways to keep the business areas from looking like a war zone, which is what happened on Flagler. Those people don’t have the resources to ride out the interruptions.”
The bill will be considered during the state legislative session that starts in January. If approved, it will take effect in the summer of 2018.
SB182 calls for subsidies of up to $15,000 a year to businesses in “construction zones” that have no more than 40 employees and can prove they have lost revenue since the construction began. The “zones” are defined as areas with a high concentration of businesses that would qualify for subsidies. The subsidies would be offered only in areas where the construction work lasts more than three months.
Florida has no programs of subsidies or other incentives for businesses affected by road work, an FDOT spokesperson told el Nuevo Herald earlier this year. But she said the state takes precautions “to minimize as much as possible the impact that the construction may cause.”
Rodriguez’s proposal came after incessant complaints by dozens of businesses in Little Havana about lost revenues because of the construction on Flagler and Southwest First streets, which made one half of each street impassable.
The small businesses — from clothing shops to cafeterias, jewelry and auto repair shops and beauty salons — complained their sales have dropped by up to 60 percent and that they have been forced to dismiss employees. They also complained about the lack of information from state officials, and the lack of temporary signage. Several said they were forced to close their doors.
The $45 million construction project is designed to repave the streets, replace a drainage system installed in 1943, install new traffic signals, rebuild sidewalks and add bicycle lanes.
The work on Flagler Street extends from Southwest Sixth to 27th avenues, and on First Street from 17th to 24th avenues. The project has four phases, and the deadlines for the work range from December of this year to mid-2018.
Rodriguez said another reason for submitting SB182 was that merchants along Southwest Eighth Street, one of Miami’s key thoroughfares, are already concerned about similar problems because FDOT is analyzing a project to improve their street.
“These repairs should be well received by the businesses, because it’s matter of improving the community,” Rodriguez said.