Liberty Square's Six Bidders

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Bidding War Begins for Liberty Square

UPDATED 7/25 to include Edmonson connection

By John Dorschner

       Six bidders are battling it out for the $200-million-plus redo of Liberty Square:
       One has strong political connections. Another with a political connection is linked to a federal criminal investigation. And yet another has raised questions in its battle for government contracts.
        There's also a national investment company and and a couple of local nonprofits with histories of commitment to affordable housing.
    The bidding process is likely to be closely watched. 

    The officers of a major Miami affordable housing company are said to be facing indictments. The past of public housing is strewn with scandals and delays, some of them chronicled in Pulitzer-winning series House of Lies, which ran in The Herald in 2006.
     Andres Duany, an internationally known Miami architect, recently complained that in the past he has found the political maneuvering for public housing in Miami to be "disgusting."
    While much of the media attention is likely to concentrate on the political contest to win the contract, the larger issue remains whether a new development will lead to an improvement in the lives of the residents of Liberty Square. 
    In 1980, the public housing project was at the heart of the McDuffie riots. Local, state and national leaders vowed then to fix the area's pervasive poverty and unemployment, but the latest census data says that the same problems still persist 35 years later.
    The companies who submitted bids by the July 9 deadline: 

    * RUDG -- The affordable housing unit of Related Group,  a big, experienced developer led by Jorge M. Perez, one of the most powerful figures in Miami-Dade politics.
    RUDG was slammed for its political connections by Miami New Times earlier this year.  
    The issue -- County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro 11persuaded his colleagues to accept a no-bid $7.6 million deal for RUDG to renovate a 34-unit building in the Shenandoah area,  New Times reported that Barreiro steered another $3 million to RUDG in a taxpayer loan that will likely be forgiven.
    Perez doesn't need the money. According to Forbes, he's worth $3.1 billion in 2015. But there's a long-standing American tendency for politicians attempting to curry favor with the wealthy and powerful. 
    One example of Perez's political strength: the art world.
    While major collectors like Marty Margulies, Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz and the Rubell Family built their own art museums in Miami without government subsidies, the powerful Perez managed to get $100 million in taxpayer funds from the county and a hugely valuable bayfront park property from the city to create the Perez Art Museum Miami.
    According to the county's website, RUDG is represented by lobbyist Cristina Lumpkin.

    * Atlantic Pacific Communities. It's a two-year-old subsidiary of a  fourth-generation, family-owned business.
      The subsidiary was spawned in 2013 to take over some of the assets of the Carlisle Development Group, a huge affordable housing company that came under federal investigation. Several Carlisle executives, including Chief Operating Officer Kenneth Naylor, moved to Atlantic Pacific to handle the projects.
    The county commission allowed the transfer of the county-backed projects to Atlantic Pacific with minimal discussion on the urging of Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, whom the Herald has described as the biggest benefactor of Carlisle political donations. She has been a strong supporter of Carlisle projects, many of which are in her district.
    Later, the Office of the Inspector General of Miami-Dade said it wanted to monitor the transfer of assets to make certain there were no improprieties.

    Last month, three officials of another housing company were charged with getting $7.2 million in kickbacks while partnering with Carlisle. The Herald has reported that indictments of some Carlisle executives may be coming.
    Associated Pacific spokeswoman Jessica Wade Pfeffer said the company can't make any comments because of the county-required "cone of silence" for bidders.
    Its lobbyist at the county is Roosevelt Bradley, who registered in February.


   * Centennial Management.  It's led by Lewis Swezy, no stranger to bitter housing struggles, including one against the Related Group.
    Centennial's website says the Miami Lakes company specializes in affordable housing and lists 14 properties, including a development on the site of the old Miami baseball stadium. It boasts that Swezy has over a quarter-century experience.
    Much of that was partnering with his mother, Ruby, a onetime Hialeah council woman, in Swezy Realty.
    In 1998, Herald investigative reporter Ronnie Greene questioned Ruby's and Lewis' political maneuvering in an article headlined: "A 'Comedy of Errors' delays new housing."
    In a bid to restore three dilapidated county public housing projects, the Swezys ranked third among competitors. But the Swezys hired lobbyist Rodney Barreto, who was close to Mayor Alex Penelas and they were awarded the contract.
    Related Group, one of the higher ranked firms, objected vehemently, Greene reported. "Our assumption was that this project would be awarded upon the objective criteria, not subjective criteria added after the proposal," Related complained to the county. 
    Eventually, after a huge public outcry, all the bids were thrown out and the process restarted.
    In 1999, the mother-son battled in Hallandale Beach to buy a property, winning a contract 4-1 even though the agenda recommended giving the contract to another country. A Herald reporter called the switch "an amazing turn of events."
    Centennial shows no lobbyist registered with the county.         

    * Carrfour Supportive Housing. Its website describes it as a "nonprofit organization established in 1993 by the Homeless Committee of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. Carrfour develops, operates and manages innovative housing communities for individuals and families....
    "As the leading not-for-profit provider of supportive housing in Florida, Carrfour has supplied homes for more than 10,000 formerly homeless men, women and children since its founding."
    Carrfour shows no active county lobbyist.

   * Community Housing Partners Corporation and Miami Waymark 2.0 Joint Venture, LLC., a Joint Venture.    Community Housing Partners, a nonprofit headquartered in Virginia, describes itself as a specialist in affordable homes working in the Southeastern United States for 40 years. It has built 5,000 multi-family housing units.
    Miami Waymark was incorporated last year. Its corporate filing states it's led by Matthew Lawrence, with offices at 6008 NW 8th Avenue, on the edge of Liberty City. 

    Lawrence is also listed as a trustee of the Church of the Open Door, which is located in the same block as Waymark's offices.
    Miami Waymark is a joint venture with Neighborhood Housing Services of South Florida, a nonprofit that works primarily with residents trying to buy their first homes and owners facing foreclosure. It is led by Arden Shank.
    None of the three entities appear to have registered county lobbyists. 

    *Miami Redevelopment Partners.  A Florida company incorporated in March, its officers match those of national developer, Gardner Capital, based in Missouri.
    Gardner's website describes as an "affordable housing developer, investor and syndicator with a historical focus on state and federal low income housing tax credits, as well as renewable energy production facilities."
    The website says Gardner has "developed, invested in and sponsored over $500 million of equity in  affordable housing units serving more than 55 communities."
    Jeffrey Kottkamp registered as a lobbyist with the county on June 30.

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