North Miami CRA gets the green light

County commission reauthorizes agency for 29 years

North Miami’s community redevelopment agency, once heavily criticized for using the bulk of its funds for salaries and administrative costs with little done to benefit the community, was given new life Tuesday via the Miami-Dade County Commission.

During the regular meeting, commissioners voted unanimously and without comment to reauthorize the CRA for 29 years.

North Miami officials seated in County Hall commission chambers cheered when the vote ended.

“We’re ecstatic and extremely happy,” said CRA director Rasha Cameau. “We’re going to be doing great things in North Miami.”

City Manager Larry Spring, who also went to County Hall, hailed the turnaround for the agency, which is designed to improve slum and blight conditions in less affluent portions of municipalities.

“Over the last two years the city refocused its attention on the CRA and making it an accountable organization,” Spring said. “They brought in a coordinator who was well-versed in making sure all statutory requirements were met, and grants monitoring and projects were getting done. Basically we brought the CRA back into compliance with the county.”

Cameau, CRA director, said the reauthorization gives the city a chance to play up
some of the plans already on the drawing board. “A CRA is there to remove slum and blight, but also create a project that will effectuate positive change,” she said.

The city hopes to brand North Miami as a destination for music and entertainment using existing businesses in the downtown area, and establish others in various sections including along West Dixie Highway and Northwest Seventh Avenue.

The agency also has embraced a plan first pushed by Vice Mayor Alix Desulme to bring a Chinatown Innovation District to Seventh Avenue.
“We’re creating a music city,” Cameau said. The area is Northwest 135th to 141st streets, between Northwest Seventh Avenue and Interstate 95. “We’re at the epicenter for the recording bigwigs, Adele, Justin Bieber and the Hit Factory. South Beach Records is in the industrial area of North Miami.”

Another plan, she said is enhanced transportation with a Tri-Rail link that will be constructed at Northeast 125th Street and 14th Avenue. Also to come is a trolley service that will connect residents and visitors with other attractions in the city.

The North Miami CRA has faced scrutiny a couple years ago when it was discovered that its three employees drew salaries of more than $300,000 when its operating budget was about $400,000. Then-city manager Aleem Ghany fired the staff, and divided the work among existing employees.

Frank Schnidman, the city’s first CRA director, estimates that more than $30 million has been spent over the last 10 years with little to show.

Councilman Scott Galvin previously has had similar criticisms of the agency. “People were getting paid good money but weren’t doing a lot,” he said. “The projects included facade improvements, interior business buildout, but nothing that made you go wow.”

Progress became hindered in the mid-2000s when the housing market went bust. The income generator to fund the CRA, the former Biscayne Landings development, was adversely affected, which meant less money than expected for the agency.

“There was not a lot of revenue, but we were spending it in a poor place,” Galvin said. “We were criticized by the county about the way our money was spent.”

The councilman said he hopes the once-notorious CRA gets positive attention, especially among residents in North Miami.

“I don’t think they noticed the CRA,” Galvin said. “Most people on the street maybe don’t know we had a CRA.”

By Andrea Robinson via Miami Times Online