Residents must benefit from development

Once-forgotten communities like Overtown and Liberty City have become hot commodities in the real-estate market with developers seeing new possibilities for bringing much-longed-for commercial and residential vibrancy to these African-American communities.

Government planners and private developers focusing on Overtown and Liberty City are being asked a number of tough questions these days, not the least of which is: What is the community benefit to current residents as a result of these new development efforts? In Liberty City, how will African Americans benefit and meaningfully shape the look, feel and residential composition of Liberty Square 2.0?

The question we must ask ourselves about these historically black communities is: What do we control if not our vote and our voices? We must exercise both to ensure that our communities thrive as South Florida prospers.

Our votes and our voices must be heard about the most ambitious development in Liberty City’s history. The Liberty Square project — bordered by Northwest 62nd and 67th streets and 12th and 15th avenues — and surrounding area will see economic boons that must directly benefit the black business community and residents who have long called for transformation, which has been too long in coming.

After the last tile is laid, sidewalk poured and landscaping planted, there should not only be a change for the residents, there should also be a change in the narrative of how and who built the new Liberty Square. It is a point of both pride and profit. The black community, and specifically black businesses, should be the beneficiaries of the growth in their own community.

If there was ever a time for the black community to stand up and express a position in favor of economic equity and prosperity, it is now. There must be significant black participation in this project, not merely symbolic gestures.

It is a matter of economic parity. The community has a right to expect to benefit in both the short and long term, from this more than $300 million project. In order for this to occur, there must be time for the community to fully understand and engage in this process. Though Miami-Dade County has held community meetings to inform residents, there are still too many unanswered questions. Even though the deadline for developers to submit a request for application has been extended from July 2 to July 9, that still is not enough time to ensure that the voices of the people whom this project will most affect will have been heard.

If Mayor Carlos Gimenez and other officials are sincere about making a difference and truly wanting Miami to be a world-class city, this cannot be achieved solely through Employ Miami-Dade, which I applaud.

There has to be a commitment to the black business community in particular to have significant participation. This is our community — one of the last historically, majority black communities in South Florida. This would not happen in any other community in Miami-Dade County. It likely would not occur in Hialeah, Coral Gables, or any other. We cannot stand idly by and allow it to occur in Liberty City. It is simply non-negotiable. The black community has a stake in Liberty City and must be an active participant in its development.

Our elected officials are charged with the responsibility to govern all constituents, including those in Liberty City. The community must insist on accountability to the black businesses and residents. Our votes will go to those who represent our interests. That is the democratic process and we must use our collective will to ensure that we are engaged and that our community is not left out of its own growth and prosperity. Liberty Square Rising will not be about gentrification without representation.

G. Eric Knowles is president & CEO of the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce.