One Little Haiti park could force relocation of 112 businesses
By Susan Stabley
As Miami commissioners await information on the price of land for a 60-acre park in Little Haiti, business owners caught inside its proposed boundaries say they don't want to move.
The study, by Post Buckley Schuh & Jernigan, estimated land acquisitions for the Little Haiti park would cost the city $53 million to $75 million, according to the firm's Jan. 16 memo to the city.
Commissioner Arthur Teele Jr., the project's backer, questioned the figures, scolding the firm at Thursday's commission meeting for including expenses that he said were not supposed to be part of the analysis.
Funds for a Little Haiti park were approved Nov. 13, 2001, as part of a $225 million bond to enhance neighborhoods and improve safety. The city has earmarked $25 million for the Little Haiti project.
Area business owners support green space but question whether they should have to move to accommodate a park, pointing to existing parks they say need improvements and other land available for a new site.
The wants to buy land from Northeast 59th Street to 67th Street and from Northeast Second Avenue east to the railroad tracks, just north of the Design District and close to Biscayne Boulevard.
The Post Buckley study said building a park there in an economically depressed neighborhood would displace 112 businesses and 262 residences.
Losing land to the city by eminent domain is the concern of companies like Sportailor Inc., a 40-year international apparel manufacturer at 6501 NE Second Court that employs 65. The business makes men's and women's casual clothes with divisions like Hook & Tackle Outfitters and can be found in department stores like Dillard's or outdoors retailers like Bass Pro Shops.
Also threatened is amd2 at 335 NE 59th Terr., which fabricates, restores, installs and imports natural stone. Owner Juan Genao says he wants to double amd2 in size, expanding out of its more than 8,000 square feet into the bay next door, but can't because he doesn't know when the company will be told to pack up.
Peter Ehrlich, a neighborhood investor and owner of Palm Bay Studios, began investing in Little Haiti five years ago and estimates his company has put $11 million to $15 million into its parcels.
His units have 19 tenants, ranging from dentistry to web design, even a church. Mr. Ehrlich also represents the Lemon City Taxpayers Association, whose members own among them 30-35 acres in the area and employ 500 to 550. The association has organized efforts to deter condemnation, sending letters to city officials and staff.
Many of the neighborhood's business owners say they and their businesses will leave Miami if they're forced out.
Manny Wong, owner of Fullei Foods, has been at 400 NE 67th St. 18 years. His 68 employees manufacture bulk Chinese food, growing 16 varieties of sprouts as well as producing many kinds of tofu, soy drinks and fresh rice noodles for supermarkets, restaurants and Oriental markets, he said, with revenues at about $4.2 million a year. His 46,000-square-foot Food & Drug Administration-monitored agricultural warehouse, built in 1985, is adjacent to another parcel Mr. Wong wants to build on, but he said he's reluctant to go forward.
"I want to add a warehouse there but I'm skeptical of it right now," he said Monday.
Mr. Wong said he'd like to grow his business and hire more workers. Most of his employees come from surrounding areas, he said, and walk to work each day.
"There's a real upswing in this area," he said. "When we were first moving in, companies were moving out."
Mr. Wong said Fullei Foods has never relied on local government incentives or grants.
"We tried to invest back into the area... now they want the property," he said.
Because of the way the Little Haiti park project has been handled, Mr. Wong said he would leave the region if the city seized his property.
Since Fullei Foods services the Southeast, shipping goods as far as Georgia, it's not necessary for the business to stay in Miami. Another of his plants operates in Palm Harbour near Tampa, and Mr. Wong said he's considered relocating to Orlando if forced out. However, because of the type of equipment he uses, a move will be very difficult.
"The question I have is: What is more important, the economic situation of this area or the liability that is going to be upon the city to support the park?" Mr. Wong asked.
Charles Byrd, director of Urban Initiatives for the Beacon Council, said the city, with the recent arrival of a team of new top administrators led by just-hired city manager, appears to be "rethinking that whole issue."
In the past few months the Beacon Council, a public-private organization that focuses on job creation and economic growth, has aggressively reached out to local business as a resource, promoting tax credits and incentives that many companies were unaware they qualified for. Called "Local Business Local Jobs," the new council program centers on helping local businesses expand.
If the Little Haiti park does go forward as planned, Mr. Byrd said the Beacon Council, the county's economic development agency, would offer to help displaced companies find new sites nearby. But discussion regarding the businesses facing eminent domain, he said, is "premature."
"We don't want to press the issue that this is going to happen," he said. "It's really on hold right now."
Still, Mr. Ehrlich said his calls to the Beacon Council haven't been returned.
Mr. Byrd and the Beacon Council have targeted Little Haiti for improvement, holding a business incentive seminar in conjunction with Miami-Dade County only a few months ago. He said the area has "tremendous potential for economic development."
Commissioner Teele on Tuesday stressed that the park would not be a "Corps of Engineers job" where the area would be bulldozed and rebuilt. He said he wants to preserve the area's Caribbean architecture and flavor.
Business along Northeast 62nd Avenue will be considered consistent, he said, and a tunnel or overpass has been suggested to link the park as the busy street divides the proposed area.
"Little Haiti is the most deprived area in all of Miami," Mr. Teele said. The need for park space is critical, he said, and the money exists.
Delays in creating a recreational area for Little Haiti are unacceptable, he said.
The public need for the park outweighs concerns of private individuals that may be impacted, Mr. Teele said. Job loss, he said, referring to the fate of the businesses, "has no merit to me in the broader context, for the role of the City of Miami. It is not the role to provide jobs... (the city's) role is to provide streets, sidewalks, parks, police and fire protection."
"Our core business is to provide the basic municipal services including parks," he said.
However, he said Tuesday that he would be open to city administration proposals to alter the areas affected if that wouldn't delay creating the park.