Developer Wayne Rosen is asking the city of Homestead to approve a loan of $3.5 million in federal money meant for alleviating blight and creating jobs so he can rebuild a golf course he bought and shut down last year.
Rosen’s plan, to be considered Tuesday, includes a luxury recreational complex, a gym, a pool, a remodeled clubhouse and a wedding venue. It is part of a bigger vision — building more than 1,000 homes surrounding the fairways, as well as a 400-unit hotel.
The funds would come in the form of a federally guaranteed loan backed by the city’s future Community Development Block Grants, money allotted to benefit low-income communities or to eliminate slums or blight.
In the past, such funds have gone to organizations like the Red Cross, the Homestead soup kitchen and the YMCA, as well as housing rehabilitation programs, community centers, parks and infrastructure projects.
Although golf is not the elite, upper-crust activity lampooned in Caddyshack, the average household income of a golfer is still $95,000, according to the National Golf Foundation. Nonetheless, Rosen says his project meets the criteria.
The developer says the the renovation of Keys Gate Golf and Country Club would serve as a “job-creation initiative.”
The city does have a need for jobs. According to the Census, the city’s average household income is $40,523 and nearly 30 percent of the city’s 64,000 residents live below the poverty line.
“We’re going to work hard to help train employees and will be advertising in the Homestead area,” Rosen said. “Locals will be targeted for employment.”
He added that the project “will not only bring property values up in Keys Gate, but all throughout Homestead. We plan to bring a world-class golf course.”
Nearly one in four houses in Homestead is underwater — meaning the owner owes more in loans than the property is worth — according to a spokeswoman at Zillow.
The proposal has stirred little controversy in Homestead, a city where Rosen enjoys unparalleled influence. One of the main developers of the Keys Gate community east of U.S. 1, he contributes heavily to elected officials in Homestead.
If Homestead City Council members support his request at Tuesday’s meeting, the application will be sent to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for review.
The golf course money would come from HUD’s Section 108 program available to the city through the block-grant program. The program allows a city to convert part of its allocation into “federally guaranteed loans large enough to pursue physical and economic revitalization projects capable of renewing entire neighborhoods,” the HUD website says. The interest rates are generally below market.
“Such public investment is often needed to inspire private economic activity, providing the initial resources or simply the confidence that private firms and individuals may need to invest in distressed areas,” the website says. Local governments “must pledge their current and future CDBG allocations as security for the loan. ”
HUD spokesman Brian Sullivan told the Miami Herald that all applications “would have to benefit low- to moderate-income residents, eliminate slum or blight, or respond to some type of urgent need, such as a hurricane.”
Sullivan added that the application would have “to articulate which three of these standards this golf course is going to meet” and that all applications go through thorough review.
Rosen has forged many links to elected Homestead city officials, past and present. He made a six-figure loan to one councilman and sold his Mercedes to the then-mayor’s wife at a price that spurred an investigation by the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust. The commission said the sale was not a violation.
In the November election, Rosen and Rosen-affiliated companies and individuals gave more than $45,000 to four winning candidates: Patricia Fairclough, Jon Burgess, Lawrence Roth and Mayor Jeffrey Porter.
The largest contributions were made to Councilwoman Fairclough, who received just over $23,000. More than $15,000 of that came from a political action committee, Building a Better Homestead, set up by Rosen’s deposition attorney, Juan-Carlos Planas. Rosen wrote two checks to the PAC: one for $6,500, another for $8,650, specifically for Fairclough’s campaign, election records show.
Other campaign donors, to Fairclough, as well as to the others who will be on the dais Tuesday, include Frank Castro, one of Rosen’s business partners, and his family, who in total gave at least $11,000; the family of Fernando Zulueta, CEO of Academica Corp., one of the country’s largest charter school management firms and the manager of a school built by Rosen; and Keys Gate Community Association’s Board Director Patrick Gleber, a restaurateur who is also one of Rosen’s business partners.
Rosen will be leasing the Keys Gate remodeled clubhouse to Gleber for the opening of various restaurants.
Council members interviewed by the Herald said they are generally in favor of fulfilling Rosen’s request, although some say they want to hear more about the proposal on Tuesday.
Fairclough said it will boost property values and bring the community’s golf course back to life.
“I think it’s not only a win-win for Keys Gate, but for the entire Homestead community,” she said. “I view it as something that’s great that will spur economic development in the community.”
Rosen’s generosity dates back to prior elections and prior candidates, some of whom still sit on the council.
In 2009, Rosen helped set up a special campaign fund in an effort to oust the incumbent mayor, Lynda Bell, and council incumbents in favor of his own slate of candidates.
Those he supported won. They included current council members Stephen Shelly, Elvis Maldonado and Jimmy Williams, as well as former vice mayor Judy Waldman and Steve Bateman. Bateman was convicted last year of illegal compensation and illegal lobbying after a series of stories in the Herald and on CBS4 about his links to a string of health clinics needing favors from the city.
In February 2011, Rosen gave Williams $250,000 by way of promissory note to finance a fish restaurant, Snappers Fast Food, at 850 Ives Dairy Rd., in northwest Miami-Dade that Williams would manage. Williams held a 37.5 percent stake in the venture, although he invested no money.
The restaurant failed by the end of that year. The relationship was examined by the ethics commission, but no wrongdoing was found. Williams has abstained from voting on any Rosen-related projects.
Rosen’s reach goes beyond Homestead.
Among other cities that bear his stamp is Palmetto Bay, where the majority of current council members were backed by Rosen last year. Months after the election, the council later named Ed Silva, an architect for Rosen, as city manager.
Rosen has succeeded on several occasions in winning approvals from the city of Homestead. In August 2010, the city approved documents that allowed a charter-school developer — Red Apple Schools — to begin a high school project on city land. Rosen was paid $1 million by the developer to assemble the deal.
In July 2011, the city approved a $4.9 million settlement between the city and late Keys Gate trustee Michael Latterner, Rosen’s business partner. The deal called for the partners to get a check every year from Homestead Water and Sewer for $490,000 through 2021.
That December, Rosen won approval to lease a six-acre city site for $1 a year for 30 years to build a charter school, although it hasn’t been built.
In March 21, 2012, Rosen got an 11-year extension on an excavation deal. Homestead agreed to give Rosen’s firm, Shores Development, extended time to dig out fill from land he purchased from the city in 2004. Shores Development’s right to that fill was set to expire 10 days later. Had the city said no, he would’ve lost the value of the fill and it would have belonged to Homestead’s taxpayers.
In June 2012, the city approved a request by Rosen’s M&H Homestead to create a mixed-use land-use category along 152nd Avenue.
Last year, he received a waiver from paying millions in impact fees.
In October 2012, then-Mayor Bateman’s wife, Donna, earned a $35,468 real-estate commission from a sale she helped Rosen put together. Soon after, Rosen arranged for Bateman to be hired by the developer’s brother as a salesman for his company.
Rosen told ethics investigators that Bateman “said he was broke and needed some money.”
Rosen bought the golf course in late 2014 and abruptly shut it down.
“It had not been maintained for many years; it was in horrible conditions with very few players,” Rosen said.
He floated the idea of assessing property owners in the development to pay for maintenance and remodeling. That met resistance.
Keys Gate, a gated community made up of 14 neighborhoods and more than 3,000 homes, includes some of the highest property values in Homestead, which can range anywhere between $250,000 and $500,000, according to Realtors.