A few weeks after firing two top officials at the North Miami Community Redevelopment Agency, the agency’s executive director has taken steps to move services into City Hall and to plan for the agency’s work in the next fiscal year.
The CRA’s duties primarily will be handled by the city’s finance, budget and public works departments. The city is collecting and scanning files from the CRA’s office and bringing them to City Hall. The plan is to have things set in time for the new fiscal year, which will begin Oct. 1.
Last month’s firing of CRA coordinator Lesly Prudent and finance manager Aldwyn Thomas, along with the closing of the CRA’s office, saved the city about $250,000, the city staff said. Executive Director Aleem Ghany has insisted that the firings were not personal, but done in an effort to free up money and to refocus the CRA on completing more “brick and mortar” projects.
“Drastic measures had to be taken in order to make this CRA continue to function,” Ghany said at a CRA advisory board meeting earlier this month.
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Additionally, through Ghany’s plan, city staff members in the three departments working on the CRA budget will be paid an additional 5 percent of their salaries. The agency also will continue to work with Steven Zelkowitz and his firm, GrayRobinson, for legal work at a cost of up to $20,000 in the next fiscal year.
The city took a similar step in 2011 when it did not renew Executive Director Tony Crapp’s contract and decided to give that position to the city manager going forward. Crapp was paid about $200,000 annually. A few months later, Prudent was appointed CRA coordinator.
The CRA was created in 2005 and covered about 3,600 acres, or about 60 percent of the city. Part of the agency’s initial plan was to make the Biscayne Landing project a major revenue-generator and then have those funds contribute to improving the more-impoverished areas of the city.
More recently, grant funding from the CRA, adding up to about $524,000, has led to developments in recent years in the Northeast 125th Street corridor near City Hall, including the MOCA Cafe and Luna Star Cafe.
But, some members of the CRA’s advisory board think not enough was done across the CRA area on a more practical level.
“You know, we have to look back at what kind of grants we’re going to give out,” said Kenneth Each, an advisory committee member. “We should be taking care of the façade, important things, curb and gutter, streetscapes, to make our city look attractive.”
In the agency’s most recent progress report it pointed out streetscape improvements such as new trees and traffic circles throughout the city. Money for those projects came from federal funds through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the stimulus package of 2009.
Other major CRA projects, such as the development at the Rucks Park area, at Northeast 137th Street and Fifth Avenue, have been stalled because of funding issues and competing views on what to do with the seven-acre space. It was initially proposed to be used for affordable housing, but those plans eventually changed. The council initally planned to discuss the park at its May 13 meeting, but decided to put off that discussion. It has not talked about it since.
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Sally Heyman, whose District 4 includes North Miami, spoke at the last CRA board meeting and said she supported Ghany’s plan and was “delighted” he followed the example of other cities that moved their CRA operations into City Hall.
“I’m signing off for the first time without hiccups and hesitancy to a CRA budget that really is committed,” Heyman said. “Whether you’re dealing with the main strip, the west end, the east side, Biscayne Boulevard, you’ve got your pick.”