Some Little Haiti residents cheered, while others feel the fate of the historic neighborhood was sealed, when Miami Commissioners approved the Magic City Innovation District Special Area Plan early Friday morning.
With their vote, Commissioners also approved a $40-million package, comprised of community benefits and impact fees, that is set to create economic development and help fund affordable housing initiatives throughout the neighborhood. As part of the package, commissioners also secured a $250,000 scholarship endowment for Florida Memorial University, to help low-income students matriculate at the historically Black university.
The Magic City Innovation District pitched as a state-of-the-art residential, business and entertainment hub, will be built in phases along Northeast Second Avenue to the railroad track and from Northwest 60th to 64th streets over the next 15 years.
The $1-billion, live-work-and-play district promises to be a model of urban revitalization with a focus on the local community and economy.
The package comprises $31 million from a community benefits agreement between the developers and the stakeholders in Little Haiti and $9 million in impact fees.
Opposers believe the community benefits package is weak and inconsiderate of residents’ needs.
Veteran community activist, Marleine Bastien said, "$31 million is selling Little Haiti for cheap. It is a bad deal; it is a sad day for Little Haiti.”
The community benefits package was negotiated by District 5 Commissioner Keon Hardemon in a closed-door deal with the “Tragic City” developers, a label locals have attached to the project.
The deal brokered by the commissioner relieved the developer from a previous commitment to build hundreds of below-market-rent apartments as part of the project in exchange for the $31 million benefits package. The reworked agreement calls for the developers to make a $6
million payment after project approval, with the remaining balance paid out over the life of the project.
“This was all done behind closed doors,” Little Haiti resident, Warren Perry, said. “It is not fair to the community.”
After a prolonged City Commission meeting that stretched past midnight, opposers of the highly divisive project aired concerns about the development that they say is out of character with the neighborhood, does little to improve the affordable housing crisis in the area, and would accelerate the gentrification already happening in Little Haiti.
After a marathon meeting that saw the item filibustered until the early hours of the morning, and a long public comment portion, chock-full with pleads to defer the item, a 3-0 commission vote ultimately paved the way for the developers to begin construction in the neighborhood.
In a last-ditch effort to appeal to Magic City Innovation District developers, attorney Meena Jagganath and her legal team, requested to have Perry intervene, which would have allowed a neutral party to join ongoing litigations. The Commission denied the request.
The attorneys brought out Perry, who lives 300 feet from the construction area in controlled-rent housing, tried to make his case for intervenor status, saying traffic, construction noise and a rise in rent, brought by the approval of the project, would create a disparate impact on him. He said these negative outcomes are reflections of how other neighborhood residents might be affected. Perry’s request was denied because the Commission found that his situation did not reflect a “disparate impact,” mostly because he lived in controlled-rent housing.
"It cannot only be that it's only homeowners that only have an interest in their neighborhood in the scale of the project. Over 60 percent of Miami residents are renters," Jagganath said.
Jagganath and her team plan to appeal the Commission's decision.
'SHARE THE WEALTH'
Throughout the public comment portion of the meeting, opposers of the development accused the commission of undermining renters' rights and slighting their concerns with the project.
The Little Haiti Revitalization Trust, comprised of residents, businesspeople and homeowners, was created to formulate solutions for affordable housing and economic development and make other recommendations for the $31 million.
“Do I want more money than $31 million?” Hardemon said from the dais. “Sure; but this is the most amount of money that any neighborhood has ever gotten in the history of the City of Miami,” he said.
Additionally, Hardemon said $19 million in impact fees, or fees that are paid as pre-development costs to help fund the additional projects and initiatives, are slated to come from the Magic City Innovation District project. Hardemon tried to move the Commission to approve the $19 million for Little Haiti. However, Commissioner Manolo Reyes objected and asked “to share the wealth.” The commissioners then agreed to split the impact fees, with some $9 million coming to Little Haiti, and the rest to other citywide projects.
The Little Haiti package's value now stands at $40 million – $31 million in community benefits, which will be paid out over the project, and $9 million, accounting for the impact fees.
A winner in this year-long process was Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens, which secured $250,000 from the developers.
“Ninety-eight percent of our students are low-income, first-generation college students,” FMU President Jaffus Hardrick told The Miami Times. He pointed out that “$3,000 makes a difference whether or not our students enroll and matriculate in our university.”
The developers would make an immediate payment of $100,000 to the scholarship fund and commit to spending a total of $250,000 over the next 10 years. “We do not get the kind of support like some of the other universities in our community,” Hardrick said. “It is going to make a big difference.”
The developers cheered as the commission finalized the vote on the project.
“We feel like we are partners with the community, and we are here for the long term of the community,” said Managing Partner Neil Fairman of Plaza Equity Partners. “We are proud to be their neighbors and we want to help the community any way we can.”
The developers project the Magic City Innovative District will add $188 million to the local Little Haiti community by creating close 12,000 direct and indirect jobs by the time the development is fully finished.
Bastien and other activists plan to continue to represent the marginalized people of Little Haiti and advocate against gentrification, displacement and the loss of the innate qualities of the historic neighborhood.
“This is not the end of it,” she said.