Editorials

SkyRise scuffle

SEEKING PUBLIC FUNDS: SkyRise would rise 1,000 feet next to Biscayne Bay.
SEEKING PUBLIC FUNDS: SkyRise would rise 1,000 feet next to Biscayne Bay.

A brouhaha is brewing over proposed public funding for SkyRise Miami, the hairpin-shaped $430-million, 1,000-foot-high observation tower on land near Miami’s Bayside Marketplace.

This time, voters won’t decide the outcome with a ballot — Miamians overwhelming approved the construction of SkyRise in August.

Now, two months later, the dust-up centers on SkyRise’s developer Jeffrey Berkowitz’s request for $9 million from Miami-Dade’s 2004’s Building Better Communities bond — a $75-million pot of economic-development money funded through property taxes. Mr. Berkowitz says the bond money is earmarked for projects just like SkyRise — a “game changer” that he says will create 15,000 jobs and spark economic development.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez supports SkyRise’s application. The full commission will make a final decision next week.

“Our application meets every one of the program’s criteria and merits approval,” Mr. Berkowitz said.

But Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado says he was misled by Mr. Berkowitz after his “no city funding” pitch to Miami voters. Mr. Regalado has gone from supporter to critic.

Suddenly, Berkowitz told the Editorial Board, he finds himself being painted as a greedy developer who tried to fool us a la the Marlins Park bait-and-switch — another rich guy trying a money grab of public funds.

“What have I done wrong?” Mr. Berkowitz asked the Editorial Board. “I have been vilified. I don’t believe I have misled the community. I have made no misrepresentations.” He bolsters his argument in an op-ed on the Herald’s website, which will be published on the Other Views page.

Mr. Berkowitz maintains the city will pay nothing and county money will not pay for the giant tower, but only for public infrastructure such as a baywalk, marina and parking garage around SkyRise.

But Mayor Regalado is right about one thing: If Mr. Berkowitz gets the funds he’s seeking, Miami property owners, then, would be paying to fund a small part of the project, the Herald reported.

Mr. Berkowitz’s quest for public funding for infrastructure improvements was no secret. The Miami Herald published several stories outlining his intentions. Earlier this year, the developer was denied state funding at the last minute via a veto by Gov. Rick Scott. Mr. Berkowitz dusted himself off and said he would seek public funding for his project again.

Although its design gave us pause, the Herald Editorial Board also backed the project — mainly for its potential to create new jobs and to secure for the city a more lucrative agreement with Bayside.

Since Miami voters already approved the project, the horse has left the barn. The county should give all due consideration to Mr. Berkowitz’s application for $9 million, hard words to say at a time when the county is so financially strapped it can’t build itself a new courthouse. But this is money from a different pot with a different purpose.

Miami-Dade residents are understandably weary — and wary — of being asked to fund projects long on promises but short on proven value. Mr. Berkowitz seems to have done his due diligence and been upfront about his intentions. Commissioners should give his request serious consideration, but not hesitate to ask the hard questions.

Taxpayers have been down this road before.

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