Grand Central Park Opens Today, But Is It A Waste Of Taxpayers' $200,000?

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Grand Central Park
When Tiffany Dallas, a master's student at Florida International University, started researching her thesis on redeveloping Overtown, she was fascinated by Grand Central owner Brad Knoefler's plan to turn a blighted patch of land opposite his club -- once the home of the Miami Arena -- into a temporary urban park. But the more Dallas studied the plan, the more she questioned why taxpayers should spend $200,000 on a park that will disappear in two years. 

The green space -- which officially opens later today -- is actually money-making scheme for the land's owner while he gets financing in order to build a convention center on the spot, Dallas argues in a column you can read after the jump.

Dallas spoke last week with Knoefler to get his take on her criticism. The Grand Central owner concedes that he fell months behind schedule on opening the park, but says a sluggish city bureaucracy is to blame.

And even if the park is only temporary, Knoefler argues it will improve quality of life in a long blighted corner of town.

"When more people are out and about, residents would be more apt to report illegal behavior to the authorities," he says. "When you work with people from the community, you will get results."

Here's Dallas's essay in full. Below, you can read her Q&A with Knoefler.

History has shown us that any large development if left unchecked leads to the displacement of African American communities. The land that once was a part of these neighborhoods become something so unrecognizable that all we have left are the memories of what once stood. There is another problem brewing in Overtown. A local developer Brad Knoefler has proposed the construction of "Florida's first instant park", to be completed in 30 days. He is so confident in his deadline that he has been working with landscape architect Walter Meyer, on a documentary called How to Build a Park in 30 Days.

But groundbreaking took place on October 18th -- a full three months ago -- which already means he has failed to meet one of his promises.

That is just the edge of the quagmire of issues associated with this project. Grand Central Park Miami is currently under construction on the five acre property located at 700 NW 1st Ave, where the old arena once stood. Mr.Knoefler had proposed the idea to the CRA with $200,000 of their money can create a self-sustaining green park that also can be used for events. It would generate revenue by charging admission and parking for those who live outside the limits of the CRA.

This all sounds great, if you don't listen. The land is private, yet the money from the CRA actually is public, since it is generated from property taxes from those living in the area. Mr.Knoefler has also personally guaranteed to pay Mr. Straub the monthly lease of $22,917. Even more intriguing is that the full terms of the agreements are unknown and unavailable to the public. Initially, the park would not be entirely open to the public due to limitations largely attributed to expensive insurance costs. The length of the limitations is also unknown.

Perhaps what stands out most of all is that the park is not even planned to be a fixed area within Overtown. It is only temporary for the next two years. Which coincidentally is about the same amount of time that is will take Straub to obtain construction permits for a convention center.

This project is a waste of Community Redevelopment Agency money. Public funding is used to develop private land temporarily while permits are being processed to build something that most likely will not even benefit members of the community. Knoefler had proposed this park last year as an attempt to create green space, eradicate blight within Overtown. The site had been littered with construction debris. Green space is great, if it was permanent.

Instead of using CRA money to fund this project, why didn't Knoefler pay for it himself or fine Straub daily for not maintaining the site and letting it remain an eyesore? Just because you own land within the inner city doesn't mean you do not have to maintain it. Overtown desperately needs redevelopment solutions to benefit the community as a whole instead of being used as a pawn in rich developers chess game. We should not stand by and let those with more political power do as they wish. The last time that happened in Overtown I-95 and I-395 were constructed and bisected the area into four quadrants, delegitimizing Overtown's role as the center of Black Miami. We must come together and plan for the future of one of our most influential communities.

Here's Dallas's question-and-answer with Knoefler:

Dallas: Why was the project delayed by two-plus months?

Knoefler: Government red tape, specifically the city of Miami's inefficient payment system, and their retracting on a promise of top soil as roadblocks that slowed park construction. $10,000 was needed to purchase the top soil required for planting. The CRA had approved payments to the City of Miami and the vendors paid late, resulting a two-week program delay over the holidays. My team and I had actually completed phase one in 30 days. It included site work, planting of 250 trees and pathways that comprised 80 percent of the work necessary for completion."

Why wasn't Straub, the land owner, fined daily for not maintaining the site?

Mr. Straub was indeed fined and remained in litigation with the demolition company for some time. It was settled, fines were paid, and he allowed the CRA to use the land free with exception of the monthly lease. His purchase of the old arena site was the catalyst of recent redevelopment efforts that continue on today.

How will the park incite job creation?

Job creation was not the main focus. The catalytic effect of change was more important in order to attract new businesses to the area. There is a market for expanded food concessions daily to support the government buildings present.

What is the future of the park?

There are plans for a possible commuter station in the future that would incorporate multiple uses. A park could exist on the roof terraces of the station. 600 linear feet would be required

for the train center. The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) had funded a $200,000
convention feasibility study. This focus has recently shifted to the Genting Casino proposal.

How is this park going to eradicate blight and improve the quality of life for residents?

Big projects do not eradicate blight. The original proposal had called for $400,000 and
unlimited public access, but the city refused, citing that the cost was too high for a temporary project. The compromise was the self-financing park model that will open this Friday. It would operate like a private business, where the income generated from admission and parking costs will pay the monthly lease of $22,917.

The park has already begun to change the dynamics of the neighborhood activity. When more people are out and about, residents would be more apt to report illegal behavior to the authorities. When you work with people from the community, you will get results. Working with out of town developers, you will get empty lots. Mega projects do not work. 

After hearing Knoefler's perspective, Dallas offered a short addendum to her earlier column:

I hope that Grand Central Miami will become a fixed area within Overtown. I agree with Mr. Knoefler that it could be the catalyst to begin the process of neighborhood redevelopment which is severely needed. If the park does stay, it will not be a waste of taxpayer money. Yes, most of us are concerned with job creation but cleaning up the landscape has the ability to attract new businesses, which in turn will bring jobs. We are all aware of the difficulties of finding work, despite unemployment decreasing by 2.5 percent recently. This may sound positive, but keep in mind that the unemployment rate only counts those that are actively seeking work, those who are not are not included in this figure. In reality, Miami isn't doing as well as most think. If the temporary plans remain and a convention center does appear, then we will clearly see a waste of our money. For now, it is far too soon to make that call.


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15 comments
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$1 Bil being stolen
$1 Bil being stolen

The City of Miami and Miami-Dade County are in the process of wasting over $1 BILLION on the broke Miami Art Museum and the broke Miami Science Museum. Neither have endowments and Miami Art Museum doesn't even get visitors. Where is the investigation of that crime?

Knoefler deserves awards
Knoefler deserves awards

Brad Knoefler deserves awards for creating a 6 acre park in an area that badly needed a park. No student at FIU should be judging the Georgetown graduate and veteran developer Knoefler. If the student was intelligent she would have spent time trying to learn from Knoefler.

Rondell
Rondell

They should develop more parks and community gardens in Overtown.  It is time to clean it up and make it safe for the kids that live there.  I hope this is a catalyst for change in that area.  So much talk and no action over the years.  We have failed that area of town and there are no more excuses!

Rob Holland
Rob Holland

Two months behind is nothing for a project that needs city approval that's just the facts of the matter.And a new convention center (which will also be built behind schedule ) will be great when it's opened.In the mean time the park looks nice and it has brought good PR for the city.This is about the 5th - 6th story I've seen on it.The others about a concert & a farmers market.Which is not what you think of when you think about that area.

Thomas Sebastian
Thomas Sebastian

 I agree with Ms. Dallas's original statement about Knoefler's redevelopment agenda.  The idea of collecting tax money from an undeveloped community such as Overtown will not benefit this community, if anything it will financially burden the Overtown residents.  The "length of limitations" as well as the proper funding sources must also be solidified before any action were to take place.  I believe that building a source of revenue is essential for the development of a disintegrated community.  If there is another way to fund this project then I am all for it.

Actual Taxpayer
Actual Taxpayer

One of the reasons the arena was demolished in the first place was that the tax bill was so high, the owner would reap a substantial savings by paying taxes on only the land. 

If Ms. Dallas was so interested as to attend the public hearings on the Grand Central Park project's funding and approval (there were 2 in 2011), she might have discovered that the public does have a copy of the lease, as part of the grant agreement with the CRA and that it was Mr. Sarnoff, the city commissioner who suggested to Mr. Knoefler that limited access was acceptable (insurance reasons) if the park could "self-finance". 

Actual Taxpayer
Actual Taxpayer

The debate about if CRAs themselves are viable is aside the point from this project.   Ms. Dallas' is obviously uneducated in the national movement towards finding temporary uses for the vacant lots that litter our urban areas.  Google "empty lot syndrome"

Actual Taxpayer
Actual Taxpayer

This article is a waste of taxpayer's time and eyesight.  How is a college student with zero resume in any way qualified to judge what adults in the real world are doing?  This goes doubly when they're volunteering their time to give something back to the community by doing a shoestring budget public use project...

Grant Stern
Grant Stern

Fact: Grand Central Park was funded entirely by 1/2 year's property taxes on the former Miami Arena Site.

Fact: The CRA's budget receives $400,000 annually from the former Miami Arena site

Fact: The CRA's only mission is to reduce slum and blight

Fact: As part of the funding approval, the CRA specifically did NOT remove Grand Central Park's underlying land from the tax rolls (which often happens in these situations).  

Fact: Glenn Straub has no obligation to lease to Grand Central Park, will only cover half of his annual expenses through the lease ($200,000 annually) and could have left his property as an orderly pile of rocks into the indefinite future while he decided what next to place on the site. 

Fact: Students without experience in either government, real estate, city planning or pretty much anything outside of campus work should seek real world internships, volunteer in politics, attend the year's worth of preliminary meetings and make their voice heard before spouting off opinions about the waste of money which is not coming from their very own pockets.  

http://www.linkedin.com/pub/ti...

Oh, those students should identify themselves as on assignment for the New Times when conducting interviews.  Bad form Ms. Dallas, bad form Miami New Times.

seep
seep

"When more people are out and about, residents would be more apt to report illegal behavior to the authorities."

A snitch park?

Sir Sausage
Sir Sausage

The only way to fix Overtown is to bulldoze it.

That being said, this is yet another fine example of the city of Miami blowing taxpayer money.

Runarounsue
Runarounsue

Overtown was actually thriving until the I-95 bulldozers came in under the guise of an "urban renewal project"

Sir Sausage
Sir Sausage

So it started sucking immediately after the highways were built and the community divided?  Serious question.

I love how there's a "Historic Overtown" sign on I-95.  I feel bad for any tourists to get off at that exit, especially at night.

Sir Sausage
Sir Sausage

Oh look horseshit being spewed by someone whose screen name pays homage to a militant hateful organization.

Overtown sucks. Nothing racist about that FACT. Why don't you drive through it and give me 5 good examples of what makes it a great area?

Blackpanther
Blackpanther

Sir Sausage,

You are a gutless racist troll. Why don't you walk through Overtown with a megaphone spouting your intolerent ignorant horseshit with a megaphone? See how long you last.

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