Marlene Bastien

Marlene Bastien, third from left, represents a group who want a seat at the Magic City negotiating table.

Fears of gentrification abounded during last Thursday’s Miami City Commission as residents voiced their concerns about a billion-dollar development that promises to bring positive change to the Little Haiti community.

The hours-long commission meeting was abruptly adjourned by Chairman Ken Russell, who ruled to postpone a vote on the Magic City Innovation District Special Area Plan, after disaccord on the item turned into a heated back-and-forth between the commissioners.

The meeting, which stretched past midnight into Friday morning, featured a packed house of supporters of the development and community members who said they don’t have a seat at the negotiating table and criticized what they called a weak community benefits package.

This marks the third time the City Commission defers the item. The Magic City SAP was deferred in November, after Commissioner Keon Hardemon argued that the developers had not done sufficient community outreach and advised them to rework their proposed community benefits package.

At the meeting, the Magic City legal team announced a $31 million community benefits package, a substantial increase from the $13 million package that was originally proposed.

Hardemon said he met with different community members and listened to their concerns regarding the impact of such a project coming to the Little Haiti area.

The new proposed benefits package will pay out $31 million over the length of the construction, which is slated to last some 15 years. A payment of $6 million will be paid upfront and would be managed by the Little Haiti Community Revitalization Trust, Hardemon said.

Housing, community education programs and beautification projects will be some of the projects that would be tackled by the trust.

Though the majority of the commissioners were ready to make a motion to move the item past its first reading, Russell wanted to review the updated benefits package.

“If we get this right, it is tremendously beneficial for a very needy neighborhood. If we get this wrong ... it could accelerate gentrification in the area,” Russell said. “I want to make sure we get this right.”

Some Little Haiti residents said $31 million is not enough.

“It is a bad deal,” said Marlene Bastien, who has been advocating for inclusive community negotiations for the Magic City SAP for more than a year.

“While the Developer will present a list of the groups they have met with, they have flatly refused to meet with the community as a whole,” states a letter submitted to the city by attorney Meena Jagannath, who is working with Bastien.

The $1 billion Magic City Innovation District will provide a combination of residential, commercial and entertainment spaces using some 33 parcels of land that is vacant or occupied by decaying warehouses. Though the Magic City camp has touted the project as the vehicle to lift Little Haiti farther up, gentrification is already affecting those who live in the area, opposers say.

Bastien, director of the Family Action Network Movement, has been helping families and businesses currently affected and/or displaced by the rising cost of living in Little Haiti. Bastien and her representatives want to be part of the judicial proceedings related to Magic City SAP and is requesting intervenor status from the City Commission in order to make their concerns heard in a coherent and organized manner.

Bastien, like many in the area, is not against development but it needs to be done in a way that will truly benefit the native community members, she said. If not, “in 15 years there may be no Little Haiti,” she said.

The City Commission will take up the item again at its next meeting on March. 14.

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