Raquel Regalado on plans for the Liberty Square housing complex
Saying Liberty City residents have been ignored and “disrespected” by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, a group of inner city pastors and politicians slammed his plan to rebuild the Liberty Square housing complex Monday and made clear he’ll face intense opposition as he seeks approval for the $307 million project.
Led by former Miami city commissioner Richard P. Dunn II and State. Rep Daphne Campbell, a crowd of protestors stood outside the county’s oldest public housing project and accused Gimenez of rigging a competitive solicitation to favor his preferred developer. They threatened to make the reelection-minded Gimenez pay at the polls this summer if he doesn’t reconsider his “Liberty Square Rising” recommendation to county commissioners, and warned they’ll even campaign against Miami’s quest to lure the Super Bowl back to New Miami Stadium.
“He is a mayor and a partner to represent the people. And whenever you have a partnership, no one should feel pimped on the other side,” said Carl Johnson, pastor of 93rd Street Community Baptist Church, who spoke to the media after meeting with Gimenez Monday morning.
Whenever you have a partnership, no one should feel pimped on the other side
Pastor Carl Johnson
Monday’s press conference came 10 days after Gimenez recommended that county commissioners approve a Liberty Square redevelopment agreement negotiated with Related Urban Development Group, the affordable arm of Related Group. The developer beat out five other competitors to negotiate the proposal to raze the old, outdated row houses that currently house more than 600 low-income families and replace them with new garden-style apartments and town homes with modern amenities.
In the proposal before commissioners, Related Urban and Gimenez agreed to partner to build 1,572 mixed-use housing units, almost half of which would be preserved as public housing. Most units would be built where Liberty Square stands today on the corner of Northwest 62nd Street and 12th Avenue, though more than 200 units would be built on a vacant county lot on 51st Street and 22nd Avenue. The county’s $46 million investment in the project would be repaid in full.
As far as the individuals making those allegations, either they don’t understand Miami-Dade’s procurement process, or they’re lying
Michael Hernandez, county spokesman
Related Urban’s proposal isn’t what set critics off Monday; how the county chose to negotiate with the developer was the spark. In October, a county selection committee ranked competing developer Atlantic Pacific Communities the highest and Related Urban second. But the county halted the selection process and conducted what it said was a required legal review after the scores of the lone committee member who lives at Liberty Square appeared to some as if they were intended to hand victory to Atlantic Pacific and tank every other developer.
After several months, Gimenez gave the top two competing developers two weeks to refine their proposals and seek new scores, at which point Related Urban leapfrogged Atlantic Pacific. That led to allegations of cronyism, but Gimenez spokesman Michael Hernandez said Monday that anyone accusing the mayor of favoritism “either doesn’t understand Miami-Dade’s procurement process, or they’re lying.”
Regardless, Atlantic Pacific representatives told the Herald Friday that they are still upset with how the process was handled, and only declined to file a bid protest because they don’t want to stall the redevelopment of Liberty Square any longer. They said they intend to fight for the right to develop their proposed project when the project goes before county commissioners.
Meanwhile, Liberty City-area County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson said during Monday’s press conference that she felt her community was “disrespected” during the county’s selection process. In an earlier interview, she said Gimenez should have conducted parallel negotiations with both developers to see which builder would come out with the better deal.
The community is feeling as if they did not have a say-so, that it was all a sham
County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson
“The community is feeling as if they did not have a say-so, that it was all a sham,” she said. “The feeling is that this whole, entire Liberty Square Rising was initiated for one particular developer.”
Hernandez, Gimenez’s spokesman, said the mayor and Edmonson have discussed his recommendation and “fundamentally disagree that her community was disrespected.” He said Gimenez plans to push the proposal forward and has scheduled a community meeting to discuss the project at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Liberty Square Community Center.
In an interview last week with the Miami Herald Editorial Board, Gimenez, a former Miami firefighter, said he expected the project to become political but wouldn’t be swayed by pressure, even during an election year.
“Most politicians wouldn’t have done this right now but I’m not a politician, I’m a firefighter,” he said. “So be it. Whatever happens, happens.”