Omni owners seek $7 million from City of Miami to aid center rehab
By Risa Polansky
Owners of the Omni Center in Miami are lobbying city commissioners, in their role as Omni Community Redevelopment Agency board members, for a $7 million contribution to the planned redevelopment of the downtown mall, hotel and convention center.
The $142 million in hotel upgrades, garage improvements and office and retail development "will further expand the tax base for the City of Miami, the tax revenue for the CRA and provide needed office, retail, meeting and hotel space to support the ongoing residential, cultural and commercial redevelopment" in the surrounding area, the owners wrote to the agency in a letter signed by "Downtown Miami Mall LLC."
This, they wrote, jibes with the intent of redevelopment dollars: funding economic development initiatives, transportation improvements and other means of relieving area blight.
Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, chair of the agency, called the request "preliminary." She plans to "take the lead" on the issue from district Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, according to her staff.
Mr. Sarnoff said he is "kind of torn" on whether to support the payout, though he'd consider contributing "some amount of money" should project officials guarantee the development would create local jobs.
Mark Teitelbaum, COO of owner/developer Argent Ventures, did not return calls.
But the revamped center "will provide hundreds, if not thousands, of employment opportunities," owners wrote, noting that when the Omni was built in the 1970s, it "created significant construction, retail and hospitality industry jobs… created an economic hub that attracted national retailers, entertainment companies and prominent national and international conferences and conventions."
The Omni redevelopment agency has in hand about $15.4 million and expects to take in about $11.7 million in 2008.
Executive Director Jim Villacorta said the requested $7 million could come from revenues generated by the property valuation increases the Omni project would bring.
Both the city and Miami-Dade County have been eyeing redevelopment agency dollars for pet projects such as the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts and the proposed Port of Miami Tunnel.
Commissioners are to vote today (12/13) whether to dole out $50 million for the tunnel.
If they don't, the billion-dollar project, funded largely by the state and Miami-Dade County, could die.
They voted once, wearing the hats of agency board members, to deny redevelopment funding to the project unless it could be fully recouped, a near impossibility.
The agency's ability to fund the tunnel — and all future projects — hinges on a necessary expansion of its life and boundaries, ultimately a county decision.
Because its lifespan does not run past 2017 and current boundaries do not encompass Watson Island, where the tunnel is to be dug, the county needs to give the nod to extend and expand.
Some officials fear if commissioners cause the tunnel deal to die, county officials would do the same to the redevelopment agency.