North Miami is looking to improve old buildings, upgrade city technology and make numerous repairs and renovations across the 91-year-old city. Initial cost estimates: more than $150 million.
City leaders argue that it’s the best way to make improvements to multiple aging facilities and to modernize the city but the price tag makes some residents and elected officials hesitant.
For more than a year, the city has been exploring plans to pay for those improvements through a general obligation bond. Residents would have to approve the borrowing through a referendum, then pay the city’s debt over time. Council members will vote Tuesday on preparing that referendum.
The price for the projects ranges from about $177 million to $196 million, according to estimates by a city analysis and a study done by the engineering firm AECOM.
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The funding is broken down into six categories: Public facilities, technology, arts and sciences, parks and recreation, infrastructure and public safety.
Those figures could still go down. Even if the City Council decides to pursue the bond issue, the plans will likely change.
“There’s still time to kind of finalize and fine-tune the scope of those projects in the time between the board approving a referendum and us doing a referendum,” City Manager Larry Spring said.
Changes in major bond issues are common — similar proposals in Miami and Miami Gardens were changed before the referendums became official.
A lot more education needs to be done for the folks to really understand what we’d be voting on and how we’d pay it over time.
Karen DeLeon, North Miami resident
Miami’s $400 million bond issue is going before voters in November, after being scaled back, while Miami Gardens voters approved a $60 million bond about three years ago that was increased to add money for police technology.
In Miami Gardens, city leaders faced criticism over a lack of details before and after the bond was approved. Some North Miami residents are similarly concerned that they haven’t heard enough about the proposal.
“A lot more education needs to be done for the folks to really understand what we’d be voting on and how we’d pay it over time,” said Karen DeLeon, who serves as president of the Keystone Point Homeowners Association. DeLeon said she’s not totally opposed to the bond issue but wonders why the proposed revenue from the SoLeMia Miami development on Biscayne Boulevard couldn’t pay for some of the projects.
“It’s a little confusing to have SoLeMia coming on shortly and yet we still need to borrow $100 million,” DeLeon said.
In previous discussions of the bond, council members have stressed that residents will have opportunities to provide input, and city staff said there will be an informational campaign. Some officials said they’re still apprehensive.
“I think I can get on board but I’m not fully on board yet,” Councilman Alix Desulme said.
The last attempt to approve a bond issue in North Miami was unsuccessful. Voters narrowly rejected a $15 million bond issue aimed specifically at renovating and expanding the Museum of Contemporary Art. The referendum failed by about 155 votes.
Here’s a breakdown of the proposed funding for some projects in the city’s bond issue:
▪ Public facility improvements: Sunkist Grove Community Center $5.5 million; Keystone Park $6.2 million; Griffing Center $5.2 million; Gwen Margolis Center $7.7 million; and Enchanted Forest Elaine Gordon Park $9.8 million.
▪ Technology: Citywide server, infrastructure and WiFi upgrades, and creation of a backup data center for emergencies: $1.9 million; surveillance cameras and closed-circuit TV: $1 million.
▪ Arts and sciences: Four community science labs $13.2 million; Griffing Amphitheater improvements $2.5 million; Miami New Way Theater improvements $6.4 million; and MOCA expansion $26.4 million.
▪ Parks and recreation: Benjamin Franklin Park improvements $520,000; Pepper Park sports complex $14.9 million; Florida International University stadium upgrades $4.5 million.
▪ Infrastructure: Northwest Seventh Avenue infrastructure improvements $19 million; sidewalk improvements $3 million.
▪ Public safety: Electric cars for code compliance officers $300,000; police/emergency operations center garage $10.1 million.