Only days after announcing that construction would begin soon on the first phase of a sprawling commercial and residential complex just west of downtown, the developers of the Miami Worldcenter have quietly begun negotiating a public-subsidy package potentially worth tens of millions of dollars.
Worldcenter representatives met Monday with the chairman and executive director of the Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency. Both officials told The Herald that the negotiation was the first since Worldcenter’s attorneys submitted early proposals in February to help finance the 10-block project with property-tax rebates.
They’re hoping to swiftly craft a financing agreement that would include public benefits — even though a collection of local clergy have come together to call for slower, more transparent negotiations.
“CRAs are created to incentivize development,” said executive director Clarence Woods. “A project like a Miami Worldcenter does a few things: It helps to eliminate some of the slum and blight and conditions, and it helps to provide jobs and services.”
Worldcenter — which inked a new development agreement with the city this fall after years of delays — would indeed fill out a forlorn 27-acre section between downtown and Overtown. The project’s first phase includes a 765,000-square-foot shopping mall and hundreds of condo and apartment units. An adjacent expo center and Marriott Hotel are expected to break ground around the same time on the old Miami Arena site next door.
But to build the project, Worldcenter Associates, and expo center and Marriott developer MDM Development, have requested millions in subsidies.
The February proposals by Stearns Weaver attorney Rick Schatz estimate that Worldcenter and the expo center will inject about $22million in property taxes into the area starting in 2019. About half the money would stay with the CRA, and the remainder would be divided among the city, county and developers.
One of the proposals, assuming an extension of the CRA through 2042, could funnel $121million back to the two projects. Dissolving the CRA in 2030 could put the figure around $85million.
Woods said the February figures remain an accurate reflection of the numbers that were discussed Monday, although the CRA is negotiating subsidies for the expo center separately with MDM. He said the Worldcenter subsidies would fund public infrastructure improvements and the construction of a parking garage that would be owned by the Miami Parking Authority and pay into the CRA.
City Commissioner and CRA Chairman Keon Hardemon said he has requested further documentation to prove Worldcenter needs the subsidies it’s seeking. He said he’s also adding teeth to a local workforce quota and “responsible” wage commitment by adding steep penalties should the developer fall short of its goals.
“This would be a huge step forward,” he said.
But a group of local clergy worries the reverse will happen. Led by Bishop James Adams of St. John’s Institutional Missionary Baptist Church and former Miami Commissioner Richard Dunn, the pastors plan to send a letter to Hardemon this week asking him to pause negotiations and allow for community input for some of the same community benefits Hardemon and Woods are negotiating.
“While we live in hope that Miami Worldcenter spreads its success throughout Overtown, our past has taught us to fear that, in truth, it could create a wall,” they wrote in a draft copy provided to the Herald. “It could permanently segregate Overtown from the prosperity available just across the tracks.”
Adams, whose church has been a partner with the CRA, learned about the subsidies in the Daily Business Review in October and said he was stonewalled by Hardemon’s office when he tried to talk to the commissioner about it. Hardemon said any suggestion that he and Woods have hidden anything is “dishonest.”
“If they have ideas, they can write them and submit them,” Hardemon said.
Worldcenter principal Nitin Motwani said in a statement that the financing agreement “will support much-needed infrastructure upgrades in an area of downtown Miami that has sat untouched for decades.” He said Worldcenter will continue meeting with neighbors.