City weighing river district taxes for dredging, walkways, stadium
By Paola Iuspa
Miami officials are considering freezing property tax revenues at current levels in neighborhoods along the Miami River, using future tax growth to help dredge the river, create trails and walkways at the water's edge and construct a baseball stadium on the north bank.
City commissioners, acting as members of the Miami Community Redevelopment Agency, approved a study due in a month.
"The study is to see the feasibility of creating a tax increment financing district, or TIF, along the 5.5-mile-long river," said Guillermo Olmedillo, an independent planning consultant that the community agency hired to work on the report.
The study is to analyze the assessed property value and the growth potential, he said. It is also to spell out current zoning uses and designations, ways to access the area and ownership patterns. The information will help Mr. Olmedillo estimate revenues, he said.
"We need to look at the potential the district has," he said. "How much money will it make available and in how long are questions the study will need to answer."
Dipak Parekh, executive director of the redevelopment agency, said his agency has already two tax increment financing districts, one covering the area surrounding the former Omni Mall and another encasing part of the Overtown and Park West neighborhoods.
The Omni area produced about $1.2 million in tax increment funds last year and is projected to bring about $1 million this year, agency documents said. Of that, $1 million goes to the county to help pay for the proposed performing arts center, Mr. Parekh said.
In Overtown and Park West, revenues from the tax increment district totaled about $317,000 last year and are expected to hit $945,000 this year. With property value increases looming, revenues from this district are estimated to jump to $4.7 million by 2007, Mr. Parekh said.
"Now we are looking at the possibility of creating a third CRA," he said.
City Manager Carlos Gimenez told commissioners he was not "in favor of creating more TIFs," or tax increment financing districts, because the city needs those new tax dollars to pay for services it provides. He said he would favor creation of a new district if there were "a formula that allows us to take care of the infrastructure while" still paying for new services that development will also require.
Commissioner Johnny Winton said he would support using 50% of the tax increment to spur economic development in the Miami River area while directing the other half to city coffers.
Because some of the land along the river belongs to Miami-Dade County, county officials will also have to vote on the issue.
"This study will go first" to the Community Redevelopment Agency, Mr. Olmedillo said. "After it is reviewed, it will go before the city commission for approval. Then it will be presented before the county commission."
Efforts to create the district are not new, said Ernest Martin, who heads the Miami River Commission's tax increment financing feasibility committee.
The state-created Miami River Commission, which has state, county and local business representatives as board members, is charged with bringing economic development to the river and its surroundings.
Mr. Martin said the county commission had approved a similar study in December 1999. He said then-county manager Merrett Stierheim in early 2000 had also recommended creation of the district to help fund projects related to the river.
Some of those projects called for a $30 million upgrade in storm-water runoff and sanitary sewer systems in the Miami River corridor to curb pollution in the river, according to a Miami River Commission document. Other proposals included $18 million for a system of walkways and bicycle paths at both sides of the river, $4 million to help pay for a $75 million river dredging and $2 million for shoreline restoration.
Federal legislation for $10 million toward the river dredging project is pending in Congress.
A May analysis released by the county mayor's office estimated a 30-year tax increment in the river area could produce up to $723 million. The report said local officials could choose to use a percentage of those revenues for the river rather than assigning the whole amount to that job.
The district would run from the mouth of the river at Biscayne Bay to 37th Avenue and extend 660 feet on each side, Mr. Martin said.
City officials never before seemed interested in creating the district, Mr. Martin said, because they've said they needed the projected tax revenues from proposed mixed-use projects at the river's mouth to run the city. He said his committee was studying creating a district that excluded the mouth of the river.
That committee was in the process of hiring a planning consultant to come up with a new report, Mr. Martin said, but now is to use Mr. Olmedillo's report to generate recommendations for the Miami River Commission.
"We did not know the city was planning on doing a study, too," he said. "It came to a surprise to us."