Miami-Dade County

Miami redevelopment agency backs away from Overtown developer amid investigation

Ola Aluko
Ola Aluko

A Miami redevelopment agency is distancing itself from a well-known Overtown developer after the Miami Herald reported that prosecutors are investigating a land deal involving the site and the developer’s president.

Miami city commissioners were expected to include the St. John Village Homes II townhouse complex among the projects funded through a $25 million BankUnited loan to be issued to the city’s Omni Community Redevelopment Agency. But when they approved the terms of the loan Wednesday, the 24-unit complex by the St. John Community Development Corporation was not among the projects listed as receiving money.

Omni Chairman Ken Russell said after the 4-0 vote that the agency isn’t giving up on St. John or the project. But he said “now that the Herald has shined a light on the issue, we’re going to take pause and look at it.”

As the Miami Herald reported Monday, investigators are interested in the details of how St. John CDC came to acquire one of the Northwest First Court parcels where the townhouse complex is planned.

In the case of 1643 NW First Ct., St. John’s president, Ola Aluko, formed a company in 2012 in order to purchase the vacant, 7,800-square-foot parcel for $39,000. He then removed himself from corporate records and negotiated the sale of the same parcel a few months later for $150,000 to the CDC.

Aluko, a former director of Miami’s capital improvements department, gave the profits back to St. John, according to Nelson Adams, chairman of St. John’s board of directors. But that happened only after the board found out about the extent of Aluko’s involvement in the purchase and sale, he said.

Still, Adams says Aluko was trying to secure the property for the nonprofit developer and did nothing wrong. Attorneys representing St. John told the Herald that the agency has cooperated fully with the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office.

But the details of the investigation — along with revelations of how Aluko’s private consulting company, Odua Group, has profited as a consultant for St. John CDC — have made the Omni CRA wary of a request by Aluko to commit nearly $6 million toward the townhouse project.

Some level of funding was expected to be included under the BankUnited loan. Now, Jason Walker, executive director of the redevelopment agency, said he is talking about working with St. John through a partnership with a different developer.

“We want to have some time to try to negotiate something with St. John where we can find an independent developer to develop the property for us, since we can’t purchase it,” Walker said. “Based on the article, based on our limitations in funding, we’re going to reroute our thinking in how we engage them in developing that site.”