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Miami Voters to Decide Date of Bayside Marketplace Expansion

August 24, 2014 - 6:00pm

Miami voters are being asked to decide Tuesday whether Bayside Marketplace should expand and possibly bring more money into city coffers.

But for the past 30 years, the tiny waterfront shopping, entertainment and dining area smack in the middle of Miamis coveted downtown has been paying below-market rent for its prime location.

The deal with Bayside Marketplace originally was designed to generate income so the city could buy more parkland along Biscayne Bay and the Miami River.

But since Bayside only pays about a third of market rent -- $1 million annually -- the 30-year-old deal generates just $74,000 -- 7.4 percent of the gross rent -- each year to buy new parkland. The small budget, mixed with soaring real estate values, leaves Miami taxpayers with few waterfront park options.

A recent study prepared by Joseph J. Blake and Associates Inc. suggests the market rate for the Bayside Marketplace property should be set somewhere closer to $3.4 million a year.

Blogger Al Crespo posted the study online.

The plan to expand, which voters will decide Tuesday, calls for another building and parking lot. With those additions, the study suggests Bayside Marketplace could reap $4.6 million annually, along with 6 percent of gross retail revenue and 15 percent of gross parking revenue.

Three decades after the the city inked its deal with Bayside Marketplace, one small park fronting the Miami River has been added to the citys park inventory. And even that transaction proved challenging to pull off.

When money generated by Bayside Marketplace fell short when it came time to pay for the land, the city made up the difference with a grant from the Florida Inland Navigation District, a state agency funded through property taxes dedicated to improving inland navigation and other projects along Floridas east coast and the intracoastal waterway.

And while the Bayside Marketplace deal was designed to generate income to buy parkland, Miami hasnt drawn a lot of support for its plans for the citys civic space. The city is growing, but park space is shrinking. One recent study found Miami ranks at the bottom for number of parks per person.

Steven Hagen, a veteran activist pushing for more public parkland in Miami, said he isnt satisfied with the deal the city made with Bayside Marketplace. While the complex has created jobs, most are low-paying positions with little chance for upward mobility, he said..

If you dont have a job, a retail job is a good thing. However, do we really need more low-paying jobs? he asked. What we need are high-paying jobs that create opportunities for people.

Florida Watchdog tried to obtain an audit of the fund into which Bayside Marketplace proceeds for parks are deposited, but the city said no audit has been conducted since 2010.

City commissioners couldnt be reached for comment because, according to one assistant, they are on vacation throughout the month.

Marianela Toledo is the journalistic force behind Watchdog.orgs Spanish-language reporting. Since 2012 she has investigated fraud, waste and abuse at the state and local level of Florida government. She was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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