By Chuck Strouse
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What do you do if you have $59.2 million in unspent funds from last year's budget earmarked for long-stalled projects at the Overtown and Omni community redevelopment agencies? If you're Miami city commissioners Marc Sarnoff and Richard Dunn II, you use some of the money to pay your staff and let the rest pile up.
"They have been hoarding money for years," says Brad Knoefler, a property owner in the Park West section of Overtown. "A lot of it is for projects that have the funds allocated but are never implemented."
This past March 26, Knoefler emailed Sarnoff, Dunn, and the three other city commissioners who act as CRA board members, listing some of the projects that obtained funding but remain undone. For example, on March 30 last year, the CRA presented a plan to use $1.2 million in grants to develop a pedestrian and bicycle greenway along the railroad tracks that run from 14th to 19th street near NW First Avenue. "This item has never been on a CRA agenda for approval," Knoefler wrote.
When the greenway project stalled, Knoefler informed then-CRA Executive Director James Villacorta that the owner of the old Miami Arena site, Glenn Straub, offered to donate $40,000 in gravel and stone so the Overtown CRA could cover the tracks to make the area look nicer. All the CRA had to pay was $25,000 for the labor. Villacorta, whom the city commission fired last week, did not follow through, Knoefler says.
And now that Sarnoff and Dunn have revealed their intention to redirect $105,000 from the CRAs to help balance their commission office budgets, stakeholders in the Overtown and Omni neighborhoods — not just Knoefler — are angry.
Stanley Krieger, general counsel for auto magnate Norman Braman, whose luxury car dealerships are located within the Omni CRA boundaries, called the commissioners' proposal "outrageous" in an email to Mayor Tomás Regalado and the city commission. He added, "Elimination of slum and blight is the only reason for spending CRA money. Spending this money outside the CRA district is improper."