The recent debate about Community Redevelopment Agencies (CRAs) appears to be an effort to mislead the public into believing that their tax dollars are being misused. This isn’t the case, and this inflammatory rhetoric, which pits residents against each other, can be extremely harmful to communities.
It has been alleged that “some of South Florida’s trendiest districts benefit from taxpayer dollars set aside to help the neediest neighborhoods.” This is an erroneous premise and the record must be corrected, especially regarding our success in Miami Beach.
The reality is that CRAs do not take money that is set aside for other needy neighborhoods, rather they reinvest the property tax revenue that is generated in their own neighborhood; and some of those neighborhoods were made trendy thanks to the tremendous efforts of CRAs.
Everyone who was around in the 1970s and 80s remembers what South Pointe was like. The CRA district that includes Lincoln Road was created in 1992, at a time when rents on Lincoln Road were only $12-15 per square foot, the Delano Hotel was a derelict, empty building and the revitalization of South Beach was primarily limited to Ocean Drive hotels and Washington Avenue nightclubs.
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The Miami Beach CRA didn’t pay the operating costs of Lincoln Road; it paid to maintain the infrastructure that the CRA paid to construct rather than shift that burden to the general fund.
While there is now little blight in the Miami Beach CRA district that includes the Bass Museum, it clearly existed when the CRA was created 22 years ago. The Bass Museum, the county’s regional library, and the Beachwalk are CRA projects that are some of the main reasons that the Cultural Campus and the Collins Park neighborhood have revitalized.
An FAU professor who has been extensively quoted may personally believe that CRAs aren’t supposed to provide economic catalysts like hotel ballrooms, convention centers, office buildings, museums or condominiums, but that’s what made Miami Beach one of the most successful redevelopment efforts in U.S. history. It would be a shame for people to forget what it took to get here.
There is a big danger in “professing” that all redevelopment efforts, resources and funds should be allocated to affordable housing initiatives. A balanced job, economic and housing strategy that stimulates investment such as the one we used in Miami Beach is necessary. The goal of a CRA is to remove slum and blight, and each community must chart its own path to do so.
CRAs are one of the most effective tools that Miami-Dade County and its cities have to address unique local challenges.
Kevin S. Crowder, former director, Miami Beach Economic Development, Miami Shores
Kent Bonde, former coordinator, Miami Beach Redevelopment Agency, Miami Shores