In 1962, Willie James Greene opened up his own shoe repair shop on the corner of NW 62nd Street and 6th Avenue in Liberty City. He maintained it despite the bleak economic conditions surrounding him, and when riots engulfed the neighborhood in the 80s, Greene Dreams Shoe Repair was left unscathed. When Willie James passed away ten years ago, his son Tyrone took over the family business.
"We've been here when no other business could make it," Tyrone says. "My wife and I took it over to keep the dream alive."
But a plan by Miami-Dade County to redevelop the block threatens to displace Greene Dreams and its neighbors, including the headquarters of the Miami Workers Center, a grassroots organization that assists Miami's black community. "The county wants to come in here to divide and conquer," the 48-year-old shoemaker says. "Well, it ain't going down like that."
Audrey Edmonson, the county commissioner whose district includes Greene Dreams, says she is just trying to deliver for her constituents. "People are always complaining that nothing happens in Liberty City," she says. "We have come up with a project that the residents can be proud of."
In 2004, Miami-Dade
Transit laid the ground work for a transit village that incorporates a bus depot, a high-rise condo with affordable housing, retail shops and a parking garage between NW 6th and 7th avenues on 62nd Street. The plan also calls for the redevelopment of the Carver Theatre at . The county has $25 million to do the project, split between the federal government and Miami-Dade.
Hashim Yeomans-Benford, a lead organizer for the Miami Workers Center, says he and the business owners began negotiations with then-transit director Roosevelt Bradley to ensure Greene Dreams and the other tenants would receive financial assistance for temporary relocation costs and be allowed to move into the new complex. The organization also demanded that the affordable housing and future jobs would go to area residents.
But after Bradley was fired from the county, the project stalled. Last year, Edmonson revived the transit village. The county has already acquired five of the six properties that would make up the site. She met with Greene, other affected business owners, and Yeomanf-Benford, and she held public hearings at the Caleb Center.
Tyrone says Edmonson refuses to live up to the agreement the business owners negotiated with Bradley. "She doesn't want to put anything in writing," Tyrone says. "Well we are telling the county they can't just make a community landmark move out."
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Edmonson counters that Tyrone and the Miami Workers Center are the only ones complaining about the project. "The community wants to see this transit village happen," she says. "I'm not going to turn around now because Mr. Greene doesn't want it."
Greene says the county has a duty to help small businesses that have been fixtures in the black community. "This here is not just a shoe repair shop," he says. "This here is a ministry to the people."
Read the community building agreement the Miami Workers Center wants the county to adopt:
CBA July 22, 2009 (1)