Friday, June 4, 2010


After the failure of Urbanite Bistro, job creation in the downtown redevelopment area is severely at risk.  With the bistro's failure primarily due to customers' fear of the blighted neighborhood, other new businesses need to learn from Urbanite's misfortune.  Grand Central, a recently opened event venue located at 697 N. Miami Ave (, is determined to succeed despite the inability of the City of Miami Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) to redevelop the surrounding neighborhood.  In order to support the recently opened business, Bradley Knoefler, owner of 697 Lofts  and Aramis Lorie, owner of Grand Central, decided to spruce up the surrounding streets to support the business and improve patrons' safety and security.  As recently reported in the Miami Herald (activists take matters (and bulldozers) into own hands), the duo fixed up the surrounding neighborhood by using local residents to support the Grand Opening, which occurred on May 13th to great success. The party was successful, drawing rave reviews and hosting over 700 people from a diverse cross section of Miami, with the Spam All Stars performing live.  

However, the road to the opening was fraught with roadblocks and rogue elements in the City and the neighborhood seemingly determined to harass the new business at almost any cost.  Several hours before the opening on May 13th numerous City of Miami vehicles repeatedly drove past the venue and later a code enforcement official arrived with several reported violations, including operating a nighclub without a permit and other alleged illegal acts.  Sources within the City reported that the Overtown NET office and the CRA had called in these violations, surprisingly not just once but numerous times during the day to ensure that Code Enforcement hit the venue.  This is despite a cease and desist letter to Mr. Loren Daniel, Overtown NET administrator, who has previously harassed and threatened the parties involved.  At approximately 7:30 PM, three police cruisers blocked the entrance to the parking lot on the Old Miami Arena site and threatened Brad Knoefler with arrest for tresspassing on private property. "I asked them if the owner had called them," said Knoefler, "they said no but the had 'reason to believe' that I was trespassing." Luckily Commander Sanchez of the City of Miami Police Department stepped in to diffuse the matter after speaking to the owner by telephone and the lot was allowed to open provided that the parking was offered at no charge.  Satruday night at 1:30 AM, Andrew Mermelli of M&M Parking, incensed at the free parking being offered across the street, drove up and placed the "free parking' sign in his car.  When security confronted him for stealing the sign, he attempted to run him down with his Porche Cayenne. A police report was filed and the sign was quietly returned at 3:30 AM.   No arrest was made.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


The City of Miami Community Redevelopment Agency's failure to reduce slum and blight is well documented and can be seen firsthand every day in the Park West and OMNI neighborhoods of Downtown Miami (see: Once full of hope, Park West now forgotten).  Beginning with the 1982 Redevelopment Plan, which has never been implemented (see 2008 comparison with 1982 plan), to the wasting of millions discovered in the 2003 Audit, to a report to the Miami City Comission by the 2005 CRA Oversight Committee which again confirmed that the CRA had not fulfilled its mission of reducing slum and blight. Finally the 2009 Formal Request for Legal and Performance Audit of CRA's documented that the CRA continues with its old practices of spending money on anything but fighting slum and blight. The last straw was the refusal of the CRA to fund a neighborhood beautification project requesting a meager $25,000 grant (of a total project cost of $65,000) in order to beautify nearly 500,000 s/f of blight, prompting a frustrated e-mail to the CRA Board (Why do projects which create jobs and reduce slum and blight never get funded by the CRA?)  

So what do you do if you have invested millions in the neighborhood and the slum and blight is putting your business and property at risk? - Redevelop the neighborhood yourself!

Friday, March 12, 2010


The saga to save some of the last remaining historic buildings in the City of Miami's "Historic Overtown" neighborhood, the Mitchell Rooming House and Phillip Allen Billianrds, continued today in a hearing with Judge Valerie Manno-Shurr of the Eleventh Circuit Court.  Attorneys from both sides squared off but central to the hearing was a decision by the Miami-Dade County Unsafe Structures Board to issue a demolition order due to the owner being a "no show" to the hearing.  The demolition order request, which was originated by the City of Miami Unsafe Structures Official Cedric Mar, claimed falsely that the reason for demolition was due to the building being "vacant, open, and abandoned," obviously not the case as the building has been occupied by the Apostolic Revival Temple, a vibrant church whose Sunday services were recently recorded by local news media such as WSVN Channel 7 News.  In an attempt to justify his claim, Mr Mar submitted misleading photos showing only a small portion of the building housing the Church, attempting to group it with the abandoned building next door.  "The photos are not of the Church," said Pastor Allen of the Temple, "those photos are of the building next door, we have been here for 13 years."  Doris Hall, representative of the owner of the property said "the case wasn't even heard and debated as Rev Nevin was not properly noticed and was not even aware of the hearing, so a default demolition order was issued." 

Sunday, March 7, 2010


Late Friday evening the City of Miami Community Redevelopment Agency cut electrical service to the threatened building housing the Apostolic Revival Temple,  proceding with the demolition process despite a Miami-Dade County Judge's temporary stay on the demolition order.  "We think it was done illegally," Pastor Allen of the Temple stated, "I called FPL and they said there was no cut off order for my service, and how can they do that - I thought there was a stay on the demolition until Friday?" he said, "what if we win? - how are we going to have service next Sunday without power?"  Doris Hall, representative of the property owner said "this again shows how the CRA is manipulating the system to get what they want - they probably showed FPL the demolition order and 'forgot' to show them the Judge's stay order." she noted "we will inform the Judge first thing Monday morning of this blatant disregard and violation of her order."  James Villacorta, Executive Director of the CRA, gleefully watched as the power was cut. "he's out here all happy and jumping up and down acting like he did yesterday when they demolished Moe's garage," said a local resident, getting emotional, "it's not right - this is all we have left."  Ernest King, a well known local artist who had been looking to put a live/work art gallery in the old Moe's Garage property confronted Villacorta, who had been attempting to lobby support for the CRA.  "don't come out here all boasting about your big projects," he said, "It's disrespectful to us 'cause we know we aren't part of them."   
Ms. Hall also blasted the CRA in a letter to Jim Villacorta for refusing a $4,000 grant request to eliminate the 'crack den' stating:

"If the urgency of the demolition stems from the public liability from people entering the property and the trash strewn around the property, why would you not allocate funds on an emergency basis, as you are allowed to fund up to $4,500 without Board approval.  Would this not be considered negligence on your part, since the CRA trust fund is holding over $70 million dollars needing to be reinvested with the taxpayers and residents in Overtown to create jobs and revitalization of these properties?..  We believe that the true intent of the CRA is to demolish and acquire the properties through an eminent-domain like procedure in violation of Federal, State, and Local laws, in order to assemble the remaining parcels for a large development project."

Friday, March 5, 2010


Despite a Miami-Dade Judge's order to stay the demolition of two historic properties, stating that she "didn't see the rush," the City of Miami's Community Redevelopment Agency continued with its plans to demolish what little is left of Historic Overtown yesterday with the demolition of the former Moe's Garage building, which was located at 163 NW 11th street.  The building, which was structurally sound and completely secured against vagrants, simply needed the roof replaced in order to revitailize the property.  Plans were underway to propose an adaptive reuse of the property, which included a live/work art gallery for local artists who currently must paint in the street as well as several apartments which would help increase the supply of affordable housing stock in Overtown, the shortage of which is another major problem for the community.

The timing of the demolition was indeed suspect and appeared to be in spite of community outrage against the demolition of the last few remaining stuctures in the "Historic Overtown" neighborhood.  The Overtown Community Advisory Board unanimously voted to request a stay on the demolitions and Irby McKnight, well known local activist in a letter to Commissionere Dunn, noted that the CRA is "charged with redevelopment as well as preservation."  In strongly worded letter to Commissioner Dunn The Black Archives, guardian of Overtown's historical legacy stated:

"There is a repeated offense being perpetuated against a once vibrant community which has done so much for the establishment of the City..what makes these structures historic is the fact that they represent the last remaining remnants of what Second Avenue once was.  While other neighborhoods are allowed to build off of its historic nature and offer house and neighborhood tours, as well as the opportunity to point to their past by hand, Overtown has been given the finger."

Frank Rollason, former Executive Director of the CRA said in an e-mail that former Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones and Chairman of the CRA had plans to demolish the historic Ward Rooming House for a big affordable housing project, even after the CRA had spent more than $600,000 to rebuild the entire building.  "What is wrong with this picture," he said, "here you are the black Commissioner representing Overtown wanting to tear down what is obviously a historic part of what is to become the Lyric Village and here I am, a white boy, arguing with you to save it!.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


As reported by a WSVN Channel 7 News report, Judge Valerie Manno-Schurr ordered a temporary stay to the demolition of three historic buildings in Overtown Tuesday until a full hearing could be held within two weeks.  "the order is more than a year old," she said, "I don't see a rush to demolish it now."  However, no one can enter the building until the formal hearing, which means that the Apostolic Revival Church is without a home, albeit temporarily.  For Pastor Allen of the Temple, it was just another consequence of the misrepresentation by the City of Miami Community Redevelopment Agency of the two different buildings, one abandoned and the other structurally sound and containing the church as one and the same.   "This is not the church." he said frustratingly pointing to a picture of the abandoned building next door, "THIS is the church."

The CRA, meanwhile continued its campaign to categorize the three very different properties as "the building", "overrun by drug addicts", "locks can't even keep out the crime" and a "liability to the City" which was echoed in the news media.  "It might come down at any time" said the City Attorney after the Judge's ruling.  "I guess that's why we have a City Agency Director inviting the news media and camera crews inside the building for tours every day, why isn't that a liability to the City?" said Brad Knoefler, whose organization applied for a CRA emergency grant more than a week ago that would have cleaned up and secured the property against tresspassers, the very things the CRA claim make it urgently need to be demolished.

Monday, March 1, 2010


The battle to save the Historic Mitchell Rooming House continued today and over the weekend.  In an attempt to raise awareness of the issue, activists placed banners depicting the Michell Rooming House in all its glory with the caption "Save Historic Overtown".  The Apostolic Revival Temple held its potentially last service on Sunday, which was covered by WSVN Channel 7 News.  Inside the service, the Pastor reassured his church that the demolition of the building would not be the end of the church. "What is important here is the word of God," said the Pastor, "we need to submit to the word of God, and it will lead us." he said.

Meanwhile the City of Miami Community Redevelopment Agency continued its harassment campaign to force the church to move out.  "Mr Villacorta, the Director of the CRA, telephoned over the weekend to say the electricity would be cut off, but I keep calling FPL and they say they have received no cut off order." said Pastor Allen of the Temple  "the CRA also said I need to move out by Monday but we still have received no eviction notice from the City and they have not began closing off the sidewalk and securing the site so we don't know what to believe," he said. 

Early Monday morning the police were called to the site when the banners depicting the historic building were vandalized by City of Miami CRA employees at the behest of the CRA Director, Jim Villacorta.  "I asked him with what authority he was destroying the banners and he told me he had all the authority he needs.have them removed." said Pastor Allen."  Local activists were shocked that historical photos put up to to inform the community of the preservation issue were destroyed by City of Miami employees.  "how can the government vandalize private property and violate our right of free speech in this day and age," said Bradley Knoefler, member of the group.  The group plans to file charges and potentially request a restraining order against Mr. Villacorta.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


The owner and tenant of the threatened Overtown properties filed a last minute legal action Friday against the City of Miami CRA, the City of Miami and Miami Dade County requesting a stay of the demolition order slated for the morning of Monday, March 1.  The suit also requested $17 million in damages.  The action claims that the City acted "in clear error" by grouping three buildings together and selectively showing pictures of only the damaged buildings to the Unsafe Structures Board, not the stucturally sound building at 1024 NW 2nd Ave currently occupied by the Apostolic Revival Temple, the tenant of the building.  The Defendants are also accused of violating Federal Fair Housing laws by "redlining, blockbusting, racial profiling, forced gentrification and non-provision of temporary relocation; manufacturing of slum and blight," using eminent domain-like actions in violation of State Law as well as acting contrary to their own Redevelopment Plan which calls for "preserving and revitalizing historically significant stuctures in the redevelopment area.".  A Fair Housing Complaint was filed with the DC office of US HUD late Friday as well.

Meanwhile the City of Miami Community Redevelopment Agency seems determined to charge ahead with the demolition.  A PR spin campaign was launched with a WSVN Channel 7 News report which showed the CRA Director donning a gas mask to justify the demolition of the property while barely mentioning the Pastor's building and the large development project in the works.  Phil Bacon, the developer who wants to buy the property, posed as representing 'local business interests' and stated that "When buildings get into these conditions, they are simply economically irretrievable"  This is despite the proposal on the table to stabilize the property and allow revitaization for $25,000 when the CRA has allocated $46,502 to demolish them.  "I can't understand why they can't delay the demolition to explore preserving the properties," said Derek Cole, Board member of the Overtown Community Oversight Board (OCOB), "As a community we voted unanimously to request a stay of execution and so far the CRA has ignored the wishes of the Community."  Irby McKnight, community activist and past Chariman of OCOB, also wrote to Commissioner Dunn to express concerns about the demolition of the properties.  David Chiverton, past candidate for City Commissioner, has expressed his support for saving the buildings.   

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Community mobilizes to save Overtown Historic buildings and prevent eviction of local church

In a heated meeting of The Historic Overtown Folklife District Improvement Association (HOFDIA), this afternoon, members of the community squared off against the City of Miami CRA in an attempt to stay a demolition order for three historic properties located at 1020 NW 2nd Ave, 1024 NW 2nd Ave. and 163 NW 11th St. in the Historic Overtown neighborhood.  The properties, while not officially desgnated historic, have special significance for many in the community.  The NW 2nd Ave site once was the Mitchell Rooming House and Phillip Alan Billiards.  The NW 11th street property once was Moe's Garage.  The destruction of the few remaining historic properties in Overtown has been opposed my many in the community, including Dr. Dorothy Fields, prominent local Preservationist and founder of the Black Archives.

Also at stake is the fate of the Apostolic Revival Temple, at the location for 13 years, and holding service for more than 100 local residents every Sunday.
On Feb 11, the Miami CRA passed ordinance 10-00147 to allocate $46,502 of Community Redevelopment funds to demolish the three buildings.  At the meeting the property owner, Rev Nevins, a prominent local figure who was  co-founder of the St Johns Baptist Church, pleaded with the CRA not to demolish the properties.  "I have been seriously ill for more than a year", he said  "The roof caught on fire and the insurance the City recommended to me wouldn't pay so I need more time to save the buildings".

Last Thursday the Overtown Community Advisory Board (OCAB), the official Representation Board  for the community unanimously resolved to write to City to request a 30 day stay of the demolition order in order to give the Reverend more time to save the buildings.

"We don't know what's going on", said Rev Allen, Pastor of the Apostolic Revival Temple, "a couple of weeks ago, the CRA said that they wouldn't demolish our building and now this morning an inspector came by and said that they were demolishing the building March 1, in less than 5 days.  We have received no legal notice nor offer of relocation assistance from either the City or the CRA", said the Pastor.  The Temple sent an urgent request to Mayor Regalado requesting a stay of the demolition order stating:

"The building is in no way unsafe or unsound. There is electricity, running water, and we hold services at the site on a regular basis. Apart from minor roof leaks, we fail to understand why the City would consider this property an unsafe structure and issue a demolition order". 

Monday, February 22, 2010

Miami-Dade County issues harsh audit of Homestead CRA, ignores City of Miami CRA's

As reported by Eyeonmiami, (Eyeonmiami Homestead CRA,  Homestead CRA) Miami-Dade County recently issued an audit report that, surprise, found the following irregularities:

"among other things, CRA officials failed to provide substantive evidence of job creation, business expansion, or affordable housing development activities"

"Also, the auditors have cited several questionable transactions involving former elected officials and others"

"for example, land containing 44 dilapidated "shotgun houses" was acquired at what appears to be an above-market price of $1.9 million from a company associated with former Mayor Steve Shriver. The houses were demolished and two years later the CRA has no specific plans for development."

"further, the CRA disbursed monies to entities with little or no accountability. A not-for-profit entity allied with former Mayor Steve Shriver was paid $401,000 to promote the City's Historic Downtown District. The contract was later cancelled due to performance issues."

Sound familiar? The OMNI/Park West Redevelopment Association submitted a 120 page complaint to the County in October 2009 (Formal complaint) alleging that the City of Miami CRA's had similar violations of Florida Statute 163 pt III, which requires tax increment funds used by the CRA's for redevelopment purposes to be used to reduce slum and blight.  The City of Miami CRA's have a similar trackrecord of non-implementation and non-performance of the legally binding Redevelopment Plan, and this complaint formally requested a legal and performance audit. The County replied that staff has reviewed the City of Miami CRA's and found no reason to undergo a performance audit at this time (MDC-Manager-Response-to-Formal-Audit-request).  A follow up e-mail to Commissioner Edmonson of District 3, who oversees the CRA area was ignored (Edmonson e-mail)