Brushing aside criticism of a troubled tax-funded Overtown housing project, Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon launched a new round of Town Park renovations Wednesday and defended efforts to revitalize hundreds of low-income apartments and condos in the historic black community’s core.
Hardemon, standing outside the HUD-regulated co-op of Town Park Plaza South, promised to deliver new kitchens, bedrooms and amenities to dozens of families. The first steps in the $13.5 million project — part of a public effort to restore 430 private apartments and condos in the struggling neighborhood — are already under way, and some households are packing and moving their belongings in order to make way for construction.
A related, $15 million renovation and relocation project of the Southeast Overtown Park West Community Redevelopment Agency across the street at Town Park Plaza North is behind schedule and millions over budget. A Miami Herald review of the project’s problems found conflicts, poor planning and questionable spending to blame.
But Hardemon, the agency’s chairman, told a small crowd Wednesday that the work beginning in their community will transform their lives at no cost while housing prices are spiking and developers are snatching up land across Miami. He said cost overruns at projects like the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts are treated by the media like standard construction problems, “but when you talk about Town Park, it’s [treated like] something much more sinister.”
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“Are there delays in Town Park? Yes. Will Town Park get what we promised them? Yes,” said Hardemon.
Among the problems that plagued efforts to revitalize Town Park Plaza North, a 169-unit condo community built in 1973, was the lack of a proper engineering study. When general contractor Mastermind Construction began the project in early 2015 — the first of three Town Park rehabilitation projects — it wasn’t even aware of the existence of three- and four-bedroom units, much less asbestos.
This is more than bricks and mortar. This is about families.
Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon
But redevelopment officials say they’ve learned from past mistakes and told Town Park South residents — who own the community together through a sort-of shared stock — that developer H.A. Contracting Corp. will perform high-quality work on their 116 apartments.
“We were [negotiating] the price for this project, and I used as a barometer the price that we used at Town Park Plaza North,” said assistant director Cornelius Shiver. “They said, ‘Listen, we can’t deliver the quality that we want to deliver, that the commissioner wants to deliver, at that price.”
Executive Director Clarence Woods III assured residents that “we haven’t cut costs. We haven’t spared any expense.”
“They’re doing their best. It’s a lot of effort,” said Dorlen Godfrey, who’s leaving Town Park South this week for Jacksonville with the help of a stipend and moving expenses paid by the redevelopment agency. “I’m coming back to my unit as quick as they can get me back.”
But there’s some uneasiness in the community.
Some who have lived in Town Park South for years told a reporter Wednesday before a groundbreaking ceremony that roofing work has already caused problems and that they’re nervous about whether they’ll move out never to move back in. The problems at Town Park North are well-known.
But Hardemon said Wednesday that the days of rats and roaches are over. The work starting now, he said, will end up saving the largest collection of homeownership in Overtown.
“This is more than bricks and mortar. This is about families,” he said, adding: “If we don’t do this, then it won’t be done.”