Miami-Dade County

Critics pounce again as Miami Worldcenter seeks another government approval

An artist’s rendering of the Miami Worldcenter
An artist’s rendering of the Miami Worldcenter

The developers of the Miami Worldcenter are headed for yet another crucial government vote. And once again, they’ll be dogged by critics who say the $1.7 billion complex does little to improve the surrounding community despite receiving a bounty of public assistance.

On Tuesday, companies tied to the Miami Worldcenter Associates and The Forbes Company will seek Miami-Dade County Commission approval to create a Community Development District. The developers want to create the special taxing district, comprised of property owners within the project, in order to finance an estimated $72 million in infrastructure improvements.

“The CDD will have no impact on County and City finances,” Nitin Motwani, the Worldcenter’s managing principal, said in a statement.. “Property owners within Miami Worldcenter will continue to pay their local property taxes and the additional assessments will service any private bonds issued for investments in public infrastructure.”

While Motwani downplayed the significance of the vote, local leaders of unions like the AFL-CIO, SEIU and Unite Here! have launched a blitz, seeking to delay approval of the district until the developers beef up their promises to the local community, including impoverished Overtown. The AFL-CIO has promoted a petition, describing the proposed CDD as a “financing scheme.”

“The developers on the project are allowing the contractor to break our community standards by blocking real local-hire programs,” a man states on a recorded robo-call that went out last week. “Worse, the contractor has turned its back on living wages and intend to pay the lowest amount possible to the workers on the project.”

Much of the acrimony over the project in recent months has focused on a potentially $108 million subsidy package the developers received from Miami commissioners over the holiday break. In that deal, the developers agreed to pay higher wages to skilled and unskilled laborers, guaranteed a few retail spots within the project for local businesses, and promised to prioritize hiring in Overtown. In return, a majority of the property taxes paid related to the shops, condo towers and apartments in the project will be returned to the developers through the city’s Overtown community redevelopment agency.

Critics, however, note that many of the wages promised fall below the county’s “responsible wage” levels for government contractors, and that the developers can hire from anywhere in Miami-Dade County and face only modest penalties if they fall short of their hiring pledges. They’re pushing the county to insure community involvement in negotiations for the Community Development District, and for the county to approve the initiative.

Meanwhile, the developer of an expo center and 1,800-room hotel on the outskirts of the Worldcenter may seek an even larger subsidy package. The unions have sought to lump in that project with Tuesday’s vote, although that project is not included in the boundaries of the proposed CDD.

In February, expo center developer MDM Group indicated it may build a smaller project without public assistance. On Monday, Joseph Herndon, MDM’s vice president, said the developer has not yet decided whether to seek tax rebates.