A portion of North Miami’s downtown concept plan from 2014. It includes plans for a parking garage and other development. City of North Miami
BY LANCE DIXON
North Miami residents and city leaders have high expectations for the Community Redevelopment Agency after a little more than a decade of small projects and limited impact.
They want it to clean up the city’s reputation as well as its streets. They hope it can draw artists and businesses that have been priced out of other redeveloped areas like Wynwood and the Design District.
Now, the agency is about to enter a new chapter.
When the agency was created about a decade ago, its plans depended strongly on anticipated revenue from the SoLe Mia project but with the recession and multiple leadership changes, little of that development took place.
The tax revenue over the years was only enough to pay for things like facade improvements at local businesses and new trash bins in the downtown area. The agency also ran into budget problems of its own in 2014, leading to the firing of two top employees and arestructuring of the agency.
Now, development has picked up. The SoLe Mia project, formerly known as Biscayne Landing, broke ground last June and is now led by the partnership between real estate developers Jeffrey Soffer and Richard LeFrak. The 183-acre site will contain thousands of residential units and commercial and retail spaces, which are expected to generate millions of dollars.
The redevelopment agency’s agreement with Miami-Dade County was for 11 years, and it will expire in October. As the city takes steps to extend the agency’s life up to 29 years, it sought input from residents on developing downtown North Miami.
In a series of community meetings hosted by the city’s consulting firm, Redevelopment Management Associates, residents described what they want: better use of the downtown area for artists, small business owners and merchants through street fairs and markets, and physical improvements like covered bike racks, more trees and cleaner sidewalks.
“We are in the prime location, by the beach, by downtown, we’re right in the midst of everything and we’re relatively cheap,” resident Laura Hill said.
Redevelopment Management Associates believes that issues like littering, the city’s various scandals and crime are exactly what the agency can try to combat as it seeks to extend the agency’s life until 2045.
“Dirty, dark and dangerous is a common theme that we use in redevelopment areas and that’s what we study,” Sharon McCormick, the consulting firm’s marketing director, said.
The firm is conducting a survey to get residents’ feedback on the types of businesses and improvements they want to see downtown. They are also considering marketing phrases like “Get to NoMi” and “Do you NoMi?”
The city previously approved a downtown concept plan and discussed plans for a new parking garage, mixed-use zoning changes on Northeast 125th Street and an amphitheater near the Museum of Contemporary Art. The plan is conceptual and will depend on future funding from the redevelopment agency.
The City Council, which also acts as the redevelopment agency board, amended the redevelopment plan in February and wants to keep its revenue methodology — the way taxes from new development are divided between the redevelopment agency and other taxing agencies — the same.
Under the current formula, over 29 years the city’s general fund will receive about $35 million, the county will receive about $200 million and the redevelopment agency will receive a significant boost of $850 million.
The alternative that wasn’t chosen was a “50-50” plan that would have given half of the new taxes generated in the redevelopment zone, about $540 million, to the redevelopment agency, $341 million to the city’s general fund and the rest to the county.
Vice Mayor Alix Desulme and Councilwoman Carol Keys voted against that plan. “I am adamantly opposed to keeping the plan as is, I do not think there’s going to be adequate money in our city,” Keys said at the meeting.
The city also plans to follow recent recommendations and criticisms of redevelopment agencies in Miami-Dade presented in a grand jury report in February. The report criticized many of the area agencies, saying that their focus centered on personal projects and not on eliminating slum and blight.
The city’s consulting firm plans to take the suggestions from the community input meetings, study their feasibility and present them to the North Miami agency board. They expect the County Commission to take action on extending the agency by August.