There have been unjustified and unwarranted accusations in the media that I “misled” the community as to SkyRise Miami’s intentions to seek public funds for public infrastructure from existing economic development incentive programs.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
My reputation, integrity and credibility, earned in this community over a 40-year career is paramount to me. I have been 100-percent transparent and forthright about our intentions from the beginning. There have been no misrepresentations. We have consistently stated that the SkyRise Miami Tower itself would be built using private funds, and it will. I am not seeking subsidies or any funding directly from the city of Miami.
We have never kept our intentions secret. In December 2013, with the assistance of the Beacon Council, we filed our application, making it a public record, for public infrastructure funding under the existing Economic Development Fund Program (EDF). The EDF program was a voter-approved (2004) incentive program designed to stimulate private investment to create significant jobs and substantial economic benefits for our community.
The Miami-Dade County Commission adopted specific rules regulating the use of these funds, primary of which is that the project be “game changing,” create significant jobs, supported by an economic study, recommended by the county mayor and approved by the County Commission, after public notice and input — in the sunshine.
SkyRise Miami is a game-changing project that will create jobs (more than 5,000 during construction and 15,000 annually during operations), make a significant capital investment ($430 million), have a major economic impact to the community ($1.3 billion
annually), become a Top 20 private employer in the county (up to 900 jobs, of which a large percentage will be filled by minorities and women) and, together with Bayside, pay the city of Miami more than $1 billion over the lease term.
Our application meets every one of the program’s criteria and merits approval. We received support for our project and our EDF application from the Beacon Council, Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, Greater Miami Visitor and Convention Bureau and the Downtown Development Authority.
The city of Miami was well aware of our request for county funding, as well as our state request. On April 8, we provided the city, prior to the City Commission approval of the project and the scheduling of August referendum, with a document clearly describing our pending requests for public infrastructure assistance from the county and state for the extension of the bay walk connecting Bayfront Park and surrounding the SkyRise tower, public plaza areas and traffic improvements on and around Biscayne Boulevard. No one was misled.
The requested county grant is not “seed” money. The $9 million, which is 2 percent of the project cost, would not be paid until one year after the tower opens, provided we fully substantiate creating a minimum of 500 jobs. They would literally be the last dollars in. The EDF funds, having been approved by the voters, will eventually get spent somewhere on some less worthy and less impactful project. The cost to the average taxpayer is pennies, and the return on its investment to the community is enormous.
Our request to the state (which does not recognize tourism as a target industry) to help with public infrastructure costs has been in the sunshine from Day One. The Miami-Dade Legislative Delegation unanimously made funding part of our public infrastructure one of its top priorities. The Miami-Dade County Commission, unanimously passed a resolution asking the Legislature to make an investment in SkyRise Miami.
There were no less than 18 articles by the Miami Herald and Miami Today detailing our state funding request. On June 11, prior to the City Commission action on our project, I publicly stated that we would probably re-approach the Legislature with another public infrastructure funding request and intend to do so.
In addition, we will continue to pursue any additional existing governmental economic development opportunities for which we qualify. Some do not appreciate the design, others love it. The Eiffel Tower design had its share of critics. SkyRise Miami is a game changer and will be a reality and that I hope will be embraced as the symbol of the New Miami.
Jeff Berkowitz is the chairman of Berkowitz Development Group, Inc., based in Coconut Grove.