Miami-Dade County

Meek Foundation set to collect millions in new Opa-locka airport deal

Carrie Meek, who used to represent Florida's 17th District in Congress, watches the proceedings at the Miami-Dade Commission meeting on Tuesday. The Carrie Meek Foundation received an extension of a long-stalled land deal at the Opa-locka airport
Carrie Meek, who used to represent Florida's 17th District in Congress, watches the proceedings at the Miami-Dade Commission meeting on Tuesday. The Carrie Meek Foundation received an extension of a long-stalled land deal at the Opa-locka airport adiaz@miamiherald.com

After eight years of delays, the Carrie Meek Foundation on Tuesday won final approval for extending a development deal at the Opa-locka airport that would earn the charity $6 million from its real estate partner for a new $110 million commercial facility.

Miami-Dade commissioners unanimously approved another extension on the lease for 120 acres of county-owned land that was first granted to the former congresswoman’s foundation in 2008. The new arrangement includes provisions for the charity to transfer its lease holdings to a for-profit subsidiary that is partially run by a Meek daughter who also serves as the county’s director of social services. The deal requires Meek and its partner, Orlando’s Foundry Commercial, to spend $18 million on the site by 2019.

Foundry is funding the construction of a new warehouse facility for an undisclosed tenant, and the new lease requires the development entity building the project to pay the foundation $1.5 million after passage and another $1.5 million once the site work begins. Backers tout the arrangement as a way to boost Opa-locka’s struggling economy, with the developer controlling the commercial facility and the proceeds paying for the foundation’s new job-training and community programs.

The deal requires $110 million worth of construction to be completed within nine years. Commissioner Sally Heyman pointed out Miami-Dade could reclaim the property if the Meek venture fails.

“I am happy to see this move forward,” Heyman said. Years into the original contract and “we’re sitting with nothing. I have confidence in this new agreement.”

Meek, 90 and a Democrat, was the first African-American woman to win a Florida Senate seat, and went on to serve more than a decade in Congress representing the Miami area. She holds the title of president of the foundation but has not addressed commissioners during the votes leading up to the final decision on Tuesday. Instead, she sat quietly in a wheelchair in the front row during the brief discussion. Two of her children, former congressman Kendrick Meek and Lucia Davis-Raiford, who is Miami-Dade’s director of Community Action and Human Services, serve on both the foundation’s board and the board of the new for-profit charity created for the Opa-locka deal.

I am happy to see this move forward.

Commissioner Sally Heyman

Foundation representatives said the for-profit, CPM Community First, is needed to preserve the charity’s nonprofit status in a venture slated to have millions flowing to the Meek organization. The foundation said all proceeds go to the charity itself and not Meek relatives. The Meek venture is also pursuing a $5 million tax-funded grant to offset infrastructure costs on the site, and commissioners are expected to vote on the funding later this year. County officials expect the warehouse facility to pay about $2 million in rent to Miami-Dade each year.

The deal approved Tuesday calls for the Meek Foundation to receive $6 million within the next five years. The influx of cash, paid by the developer, would mean a dramatic change for a foundation whose most recent public tax records have shown no paid staff and little money beyond the $31,000 needed to maintain its lease at the county-owned airport.

Tony Crapp Sr., a former county administrator, recently signed on as the foundation’s director, and the deal outlines an extensive plan for the charity to provide community and economic-development programs for Opa-locka, a city where financial turmoil has pushed the local government to the brink of bankruptcy.

The Workforce and Development Plan requires the foundation to create training programs for the aviation, warehouse and logistics industries, with a focus on Opa-locka residents in need of well-paying jobs. The money also can be used for education, health and housing programs “in furtherance of Carrie Meek’s legislative and community legacy” and as grants for local groups pursuing economic-development efforts.

Miami-Dade commissioners first approved the Meek Foundation’s Opa-locka lease in 2008, and later extended the construction-start deadline to 2015. Meek representatives blamed the real estate crash for the delays, though the last deadline fell during a second boom in the county’s development industry. With Foundry saying it has a major tenant signed for the facility, backers see the market lining up to finally make the Carrie Meek International Business Park a reality.

“I feel like I want to get up and dance,” said Commissioner Barbara Jordan, the plan’s longtime advocate and sponsor of the Meek legislation.

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