Redevelopment district $5.3 million check to arts center remains on hold
By Risa Polansky
The check's still not in the mail.
Miami's Omni Community Redevelopment Agency is hanging on to a $5.3 million performing arts center debt payment — past due to Miami-Dade County since March 31 — until board members vote to amend the agency's budget to include it.
A special meeting is in the works, said Executive Director Jim Villacorta.
The money is one of the many working parts of the city and Miami-Dade County's "global agreement." The deal arranges for the agency to shoulder arts center debt in order to free up county funds to build a baseball stadium for the Florida Marlins.
Commissioners, sitting as the agency board, didn't send the check last month after tangling over whether paying required public discussion.
Though an agenda item provided for it, City Attorney Julie O. Bru said no further action was necessary after approving the global agreement in December and a stadium deal in March.
Commissioner Tomás Regalado walked out on the meeting, unwilling to be "part of that charade," he said.
Agency Chair Michelle Spence-Jones asked staff to hold onto the money to allow further discussion in private the next day.
The result: the act of sending the money doesn't require a vote. But providing for the increased payment in the agency budget does.
The city's Anti-Deficiency Act, a remnant of its recovery from bankruptcy in the late 1990s, requires that the board approve all budget line items adjusted more than 10%.
Upping the agency's existing arts center payments from $1.43 million to $5.3 million applies.
The board was to have voted to amend the budget at last month's meeting, but lost its quorum when Mr. Regalado left.
Ms. Spence-Jones and Joe Sanchez were the only others present, and a vote requires three members.
The date for the special meeting has not been set.
Mr. Villacorta said he's informed county budget officials of the wait.
Calls to the county were not returned.
Mr. Regalado, a noisy opponent of the global agreement, looks forward to the upcoming discussion.
"I think it will be an opportunity to discuss the deal itself and not the legalities of sending the check," he said. "I don't know if it's going to change anything, but at least the people and the stakeholders of the CRA area will have the time and the opportunity to address their issues to the board. I think it would be very healthy."
His departure from the recent meeting left several other agency items hanging, including an update on the process of expanding the Omni agency's boundaries and a vote to spend $25,000 to study the Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency for expansion.
The global agreement calls for enlarging both, as well as extending their lives, to directly and indirectly back its projects, such as a Port of Miami tunnel and revamp of Bicentennial Park.
Overtown dollars would not be used to pay for the big-ticket items, but some money generated by the expansion would be fed back into city and county general funds.
An area must be found a slum or blighted in order to be included in a redevelopment agency's boundaries.
Should the Omni expansion fail — and some say it will, doubting Watson Island fits the "blighted" definition — the agency could still swing the arts center payments, Mr. Villacorta said.
The global agreement mandates the agency pay $1.43 million annually for the arts center, plus 35% of the agency's revenues above the $1.43 million.
An expanded area would mean more funding to cover both the arts center payments and other projects.
Now, without the expansion, the payment is nearly half the agency's more than $11.7 million in 2008 revenues.
The global agreement itself faces several hurdles, including a lawsuit by auto magnate Norman Braman and a dispute over who would police the new stadium.