Acknowledging North Beach’s Challenges to Lift it up

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Acknowledging North Beach’s Challenges to Lift it up:

City turns to tried and true Community Redevelopment Act

Miami Beach has successfully used the Community Redevelopment Act to revitalize two formerly “blighted” areas into a thriving neighborhood and commercial district. Now it wants to do the same for portions of North Beach.
Community Redevelopment Areas (CRAs) allow the creation of special funding districts where incremental increases in property taxes generated within the CRA stay within the CRA and are used for specific redevelopment purposes. City Commissioners this week took the first step toward a designated CRA for North Beach, approving a “finding of necessity” to be transmitted to Miami-Dade County which must approve the designation. 
In a memo to Commissioners, City Manager Jimmy Morales wrote, “Historically, the City has successfully established two CRAs. The 25-acre South Pointe CRA was active between 1987 and 2006, during which time the assessed property values increased from $59 million to approximately $2.5 billion in January 2005. Largely responsible for transforming the South of Fifth neighborhood from blighted conditions, the South Pointe district is widely considered the most successful redevelopment district in the State of Florida and one of the most notable in the country.”
“The 332-acre City Center CRA was established in 1993 and witnessed taxable values increase from $292.6 million to approximately $6 billion as of January 2018. The City Center CRA was established to promote hotel development and to foster civic, cultural, and entertainment uses throughout the urban core near the Convention Center,” according to Morales. “Transformative projects resulting from public and private CRA investment included: two hotels developed as private/public partnerships, the 800-room Loews and the 425-room Royal Palm Crowne Plaza; the Anchor Shops parking garage; the beachwalk extension from 21st Street to Lummus Park; the Frank Gehry-designed New World Campus; and a Cultural Arts Campus Master Plan, which featured a new regional library, the Miami City Ballet headquarters, renovation of the Bass Museum, and restoration of Collins Park.”
Establishing a CRA for North Beach was one of the ideas put forth in the North Beach Master Plan as a funding mechanism for revitalization. In order to establish a CRA, the first step is a “finding of necessity” outlining the presence of conditions that could include slum or blighted areas, a shortage of affordable housing, “a coastal or tourist area that is deteriorating or economically distressed due to outdated building density patterns, inadequate transportation and parking facilities, faulty lot layout or inadequate street layout” or any combinations of those things, according to Morales’ memo.
“Within North Beach, there exists a defined geographic area containing a large number of deteriorated commercial buildings, as well as substandard housing units which pose danger to residents and harm economic vitality,” he said. “This area is generally bounded by 87th Terrace to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the east, 65th Street to the south, and Rue Notre Dame to the west (the proposed boundary)… In order to reverse the economic decline of the area within the proposed boundary, it is necessary to consider establishing a community development agency as a catalyst to redevelopment.”
Included within the geographic area recommended for CRA designation is the North Beach Town Center, Ocean Terrace, the Normandy Fountain commercial plaza, the West Lots, and North Shore Open Space Park, all areas that either have projects approved, proposed, or have the potential for future development that would result in incremental tax revenue that would stay within the district to fund additional revitalizaton.
To create the “finding of necessity”, the City hired BusinessFlare Economic Development Solutions whose Principal, Kevin Crowder, is the former Director of Economic Development and Government Affairs for the Miami Beach Redevelopment Agency. He has worked on CRA plans in North Miami, North Miami Beach, Dania Beach, Naranja Lakes, Palm Bay, Cape Coral, Davie, Mount Dora, and Martin County.
Crowder “identified the presence of nine of the fifteen criteria legally necessary to designate an area as blighted and then proceed to formal discussion with the County,” Morales wrote. 
They are:
  1. predominance of defective or inadequate street layout, parking facilities, roadways, bridges, or public transportation facilities;
  2. aggregate assessed values of real property in the area have failed to show appreciable increase over the five years prior to the finding of such conditions;
  3. faulty lot layout in relation to size, adequacy, accessibility, or usefulness;
  4. unsanitary or unsafe conditions;
  5. deterioration of site or other improvements;
  6. inadequate and outdated building density patterns;
  7. fire and emergency medical service calls to the area proportionately higher than in the remainder of the county or municipality;
  8. a greater number of violations of the Florida Building Code in the area than the number of violations recorded in the remainder of the county or municipality; and
  9. diversity of ownership or defective or unusual conditions of title which prevent the free alienability of land within the deteriorated or hazardous area.
Commissioner Ricky Arriola, the sponsor of the item, said, “We’ve had a very good track record with these CRA’s here in Miami Beach. North Beach, we keep saying it, 50 years, probably 70 years, nothing has happened.”
“I think there’s a lot of support for this in the community,” he said while also noting, “I’ve seen some comments out there that, ‘oh you’re calling it blight.’ Unfortunately, that is the legal mechanism that you need in order to be able to be eligible for a Community Redevelopment Agency and it’s just a definition.”
“The South of Fifth neighborhood, I think by all accounts we all think it’s a tremendous gem and jewel for our city,” he continued. “It has the highest real estate values in our city. That was declared blighted 30 years ago and we saw what happened.”
“What’s happened there has been some of the most sought-after real estate in the entire country,” Arriola said. “And not just valuable real estate. It’s a wonderful place to live. The quality of life of folks who live South of Fifth, where I lived for 15 years, is among the best in the entire county, so I think this is the right approach.”
Commissioner John Alemán said, “This is probably the most important, strategic, beneficial moves that we could possibly take… We know this could bring millions of dollars back to invest in that area.”
The move did cause some angst on social media. “Somebody was speculating that the reason we were doing this was not that we wanted to invest back in the City but that somehow this set the table for the City administration to eminent domain other people’s private properties so could we please address that on the record... I’m really baffled that someone would put that out there,” Morales said.
Morales emphasized that was “not ever an intention. It was never a factor that was considered.” He said “the power to engage in eminent domain exists regardless of the existence of a CRA. We don’t need a CRA [for eminent domain] so that’s a false argument.”
“It would be great for those areas of North Beach if they were able to keep those real property tax dollars to be spent,” Commissioner Michael Góngora said. “I think there is some misinformation out there in the public about the purpose behind this and they’re hearing things like we’re saying North Beach is blighted and they get very concerned about what’s coming after that... We do need to do some education from the City side to let people know the positive impact that this could have for the community and try to squash those rumors.”
Crowder replied, “You’ve done a lot of good planning work already and I think your communities are ready for implementation. The North Beach Master Plan identified this and even the experience of the city in the past is that this is one of the best, if not the best tool, you have for implementation… It’s important the community see that.”
“This is good news for North Beach,” Commissioner Mark Samuelian said. “We want to make the community better. This allows City funding and County funding that would be dedicated to the community but I would underscore we do have to do a little more on the communication. What should be good news, for some reason, has raised angst, so as we proceed let’s get that message right. This is good news for North Beach.”
Commissioner Joy Malakoff agreed that “many parts of North Beach are challenged and distressed. I think this is a wonderful resolution to move forward.”
She did raise a concern about gentrification. “There are many, many residents living in North Beach today who have difficulties, even today, paying their rent. There are some low-income people who really need affordable housing and I would not like to see a full gentrification of North Beach as happened in South Beach where there’s not much affordable housing left. So as this moves forward we have to make sure that there are components that are affordable and workforce housing in the North Beach area so that these folks aren’t all gentrified right out of their homes.”
City Economic Development Director Bo Martinez said, “Something we’re going to be doing is looking at best practices from all over the country and look at potential programs around affordable and workforce housing, not only looking at how do we preserve it but how do we enhance it going forward.”
Crowder said, “this is coming up more and more in the communities that are doing community redevelopment plans… Now under state law, one of the required components is specifically to look at neighborhood impacts of this specific type,”
Details including proposed boundaries are here.

Updated April 15, 2020: Agenda item for April 22 City Commission meeting regarding establishment of an oversight committee for the potential CRA and expanded boundaries to include the Crespi and North Shore areas. The request for designation has been held up over resident concerns about how the CRA money would be used. The Oversight Committee, similar to the Committee in place to provide oversight and guidance on the General Obligation (GO) Bond expenditures, is proposed as a way to help ease those fears.

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