As Bayside's black retailers dwindle, mall's minority foundation draws critics
By Paola Iuspa
Black business operators at Bayside Marketplace have decreased in number from 24 to four in the past decade, spurring criticism of the mall's foundation created to aid minority retailers.
When Bayside was built 15 years ago on Miami's waterfront, the city's elected officials created Bayside Minority Foundation to assist owners with their business plans.
At least four black business owners, one no longer at Bayside, said neither the 15-member foundation nor Maryland-based Rouse Co., builder and operator of the mall, has gone far enough in providing aid. Rouse has a lease with the city and is obligated to donate $100,000 annually to the Bayside Minority Foundation.
Despite the recent complaints, Rouse officials said minority business owners currently control 52% of Bayside's retail stores, even though the lease requires 48% of the tenants to be minorities.
An original tenant and until recently the owner of Bayside T-Shirts and Miami Design, Panzegna Wood, told Miami commissioners last week that she was evicted from her businesses when she was unable to raise the capital to cover her debts.
"They had told me they were going to work with me," she said, referring to the foundation.
Ms. Wood said she fell behind in her rent payments after sales went down following 9/11. Although she asked the Rouse Co. to defer her rent, she said she did not receive the help.
Rouse, on the other hand, did receive a three-month abatement on its rent from the city immediately after 9/11.
Black retailers, said Brenda Rivers, owner of Carousel and Edy's Ice Cream, find it "very hard" to get good lease terms.
"The terms are set in a way that you will fail," said Ms. Rivers.
She said she hoped to meet with Rouse Co. directors this week after having many unfruitful meetings with management in which she tried to ease the terms of her contract.
Carole Ann Taylor, one of the first African-American tenants in Bayside, said she was forced to sell her store in 1998 because the rent was too high and she had run out of collateral to back new loans to cover expenses.
"I was there when the city created the foundation," Ms. Taylor said. "It was created to provide technical and financial assistance to minority-owned businesses going to Bayside. But when I asked for help, they said they did not provide financial help to anybody."
Foundation members never offered financial support, said T. Willard Fair, chairman of the nonprofit Bayside Minority Foundation.
"We do not give direct loans," said Esther Monzon-Aguirre, the group's vice chair. "We can refer them to organizations that lend money."
Both board members said they were not aware of the drop in African-Americans operating at Bayside and that no one in the past year requested help from the foundation or shared these concerns.
Retailers say lack of access to capital is one of the main reasons the 20 black-owned businesses are no longer among the 132 retail outlets at Bayside that serve 5.4 million international visitors every year, according to Rouse Co statistics.
Raul Tercilla, Rouse vice president, said many Bayside tenants need a source of financing to provide them with working capital to buy inventory.
"We look forward to working with the foundation," said Mr. Tercilla, addressing Miami commissioners last week. "But the source of financing is key."
Ms. Monzon-Aguirre said she was going to propose Bayside Minority Foundation start providing loans. She said Mr. Tercilla many times went out of his way to help minority-owned and small businesses in Bayside.
Ms. Taylor, who along with Miami commissioner Arthur Teele Jr last week joined the foundation to help identify solutions for minority retailers, said she plans to propose changes to make the group more supportive for African-American entrepreneurs.
"My goal is to provide financial and technical assistance," she said. "We don't have someone rooting for you, in your corner, who represents you. Especially in Miami...it is a tough place for African-Americans. It is more difficult than in other cities because we don't have an African-American entrepreneurial base."
Mr. Teele, the only African-American on the five-member Miami City Commission, said he felt the same way.
"What is going on in Bayside is the same thing that is happening in Miami," he said. "This town does not want to see black people in business."