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Friday, July 24, 2009  - South Florida Business Journal

Miami-Dade expands CRA boundaries
By Oscar Pedro Musibay

Miami-Dade County commissioners expanded the boundaries and life of Overtown’s redevelopment agency Thursday, paving the way for millions of dollars to be pumped into one of Miami’s poorest neighborhoods.

The Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency will not end in 2017, but continue until March 2030. The CRA, whose district currently includes the Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center, just north of the downtown area, also will expand west of Interstate 95 and north of Interstate 395.

“We ask this commission to go full speed ahead with the bonds or whatever it needs to make sure that the quality of life is made better,” said onetime Overtown resident Nathanial Wilcox, who spoke at Thursday’s commission meeting in support of the expansion.

Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, whose district includes Overtown, also prioritized three projects that are in the planning phases: Mama Hattie's House, which provides supportive housing to women; an affordable housing project that Alonzo Mourning Charities plans on county land; and the relocation of Camillus House inside the CRA’s expanded boundary.

But, the CRA should talk to the community before putting money into the projects, said Emanuel Washington, vice chairman of the Overtown Community Oversight Board. He explained that he and community leaders have been working with the CRA to set redevelopment priorities.

“When I was 11 years old, I watched I-95 rip through our community and destroy it, and we were promised that it was going to be rebuilt,” he said. “And now is the time.”

Prior to the vote, Commissioner Joe Martinez raised questions about the county administration’s motivation for approving the CRA boundary expansion and life extension. He pointed to the commitment the county and the city made to the expansion as part of a deal to pay for several big-ticket items, including a tunnel to the Port of Miami and the renovation of Bicentennial Park in downtown Miami.

Approval of the package of projects also came with the promise that Overtown and Park West would benefit from millions of dollars in bonds sold for redevelopment. The bonds, which could generate as much as $100 million, are expected to be sold by the end of the year.

County Manager George Burgess also confirmed Martinez’s assertion that taxes being generated by new construction in Park West would go toward creating investment in the expanded area. Without new investment, the expanded area would generate $3 million over 21 years.

Thursday’s vote also may end the city of Miami’s lawsuit against the county over land promised to the city for a residential project, Crosswinds.

At Edmonson’s direction, city and county officials negotiated an end to the lawsuit if the county approves plans for the site, which includes city and county land.

“Life doesn’t always give us a second chance to correct the mistakes of the past, whether those mistakes were made by us or made by others,” said Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, who spoke in support of the CRA expansion. “And so, as we go forward, let us remember the words of Booker T. Washington: ‘There are two ways of exerting one’s strength: One is pushing down and the other is pulling up.’ Today, it is my hope that the county and the city will join together once gain to pull this neighborhood up to its rightful place. Let us keep our promise.”