There are many challenges facing Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s plan to redevelop Liberty Square, the county’s oldest, most crime-plagued public housing project.
But the biggest complication may be that it is located in the city of Miami, where the father of Gimenez’s chief rival is mayor.
Gimenez is seeking reelection in one year against School Board member Raquel Regalado, the daughter of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado. And now that his administration is days from closing a window for contractors to bid on a Liberty Square contract, Gimenez’s counterpart in the city is criticizing the county’s plans.
“My issues are, No. 1, there is no information between the city and the county about what they’re going to do and when they’re going to do it,” Mayor Regalado said Monday. “Two, we need to coordinate with the county to have a comprehensive plan on 15th Avenue, which is the heart of Liberty Square. We should work together.”
As summer begins, Regalado says he’s working with the Urban League of Greater Miami and its president, T. Willard Fair, to improve Liberty City. Gimenez hopes to leverage $74 million in county money and turn it into a $200 million public-private redevelopment of Liberty Square, plus job development and new single-family homes. Fair’s Urban League aims to create an “educational village” in Liberty Square and revitalize the surrounding commercial corridors on 15th Avenue and 62nd Street.
Gimenez calls his plan Liberty City Rising. The Urban League calls its plan We Rise.
Despite the similarity in name, the two efforts appear to be moving with no cooperation. Fair says the county, which will stop taking competitive bids on July 9, has declined to consider well-laid plans by the Urban League, despite its decades of history in Liberty City.
“We have a golden opportunity in the name of progress to transform the picture of the entire community,” said Fair, who likened Gimenez’s plan to a “rape” of the community in a July 1 letter to the Miami Herald. “The politics should be laid aside in this process.”
But Gimenez’s administration believes politics is behind the late-blooming criticisms. Michael Liu, Gimenez’s director of public housing, wrote in a July 2 email to Gimenez spokesman Michael Hernández that he previously met with both Regalado and Fair — the latter twice — and explained the project to both. He said Regalado seemed supportive when they talked Dec. 29.
“I was encouraged by the mayor’s pledge of support and cooperation at that point,” Liu wrote, following a critical Miami Times report. “However, upon the announcement of his daughter’s interest in running for Miami-Dade mayor, it became clear that Mayor Regalado’s public posture on the effort took a negative tone.”
Regalado and Fair both say previous meetings with the county involved little detail about Gimenez’s Liberty Square project. Regalado said Liberty Square wasn’t even mentioned. But Liu says he had in-depth conversations with both, gave plenty of time for community input before officially kicking off the competitive process, and extended the application date one week due to county requests for developers to make hiring commitments and partner with minority-owned businesses.
The dispute appears to have opened a rift between Regalado and Gimenez, who have been at odds over a series of projects for months but have nevertheless remained civil. But Regalado said Monday that he was “offended” by comments Hernández made last week to the Miami Times that Regalado had done “nothing” for Liberty City in six years as mayor.
“I find that offensive, that an employee of the county would say to the media, ‘What has he done for Liberty City? Nothing.’ Who is he?” Regalado said. “He’s nothing. He’s just a hire.”
Hernández said Monday that Gimenez will proceed with the project as planned. The county-managed, HUD-owned project along 62nd Street, west of Northwest 12th Avenue, has roughly 700 units. Plans show the redevelopment would move in phases, with the belief that no tenants would be displaced.
“It is the right thing to do and he has directed his administration to make this happen,” Hernández said. “Mayor Gimenez is putting the people above politics.”