Months after Miami commissioners approved a controversial agreement with the developers of the Miami Worldcenter, it looks like they’ll get to do it all over again.
The Forbes Company and Miami Worldcenter Holdings have asked the city commission to vote once again on their development agreement with the city because of concerns that Miami officials may have botched a procedural issue that could leave the project vulnerable to lawsuits. The deal in question, which commissioners approved back in September, grants the 27-acre project certain privileges on what it can build and include in the massive retail and residential complex.
“Miami Worldcenter has emphasized transparency from day one, so we will return to the Commission this month requesting approval of our Development Agreement once again,” a Worldcenter spokesman wrote in a statement.
The re-hearings are scheduled to take place Feb. 12 and again on Feb. 26. They come as the developers are pushing to break ground on the $1.2 billion first phase, including a 765,000-square-foot mall and two residential towers in a blighted area called Park West just south of I-395.
The hearings also come after Miami commissioners, representing the Overtown community redevelopment agency, voted to grant $88 million in property tax subsidies to Worldcenter’s developers. That decision continues to drive long-standing allegations of favoritism and hand-outs.
Last week, Overtown residents lashed out at Commissioner and CRA Chairman Keon Hardemon during a meeting to protest what they said were weak wage and workforce commitments in exchange for the property tax rebates. Meanwhile, opponents of the project have sued the city in the hopes of overturning the previously approved development agreement — which was actually never finalized by the city.
Perhaps embarrassingly for the city, this is the second time in about as many months that commissioners will be asked to approve something on which they’ve already voted. In November, commissioners had to go back and vote on a Walmart appeal a second time after a judicial panel ruled the city erred procedurally in granting the mega-retailer more loading berths than allowed.
The city attorney’s office and planning department have defended their handling of both projects. But on Tuesday, Deputy City Attorney Barnaby Min said Worldcenter was being pragmatic.
“I believe the Developer’s request is prudent,” Min wrote in an email.
Paul Savage, an attorney who represents plaintiffs fighting Walmart and Worldcenter, said he’s “disappointed in the way the process has gone.” His clients’ complaints stem from the city never executing the Worldcenter development agreement it approved in September, leaving the public unable to see the final copy of a deal that was changed on the fly.
“It’s one thing to debate the wisdom of these developments and whether they’re a good idea or bad idea,” said Savage. “But sitting here trying to get fundamental notice, and saying if you vote on something, don’t change it after everyone goes home? I don’t know. I’m disappointed.”