A prominent local builder just got a sweet bailout from Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and the county commission. On March 20, commissioners quietly approved Gimenez's request to pay off $400,000 that Otis Pitts Jr. owes in property taxes on a complex he owns on NW 62nd Street at Seventh Avenue.
The payout is a new low point for a developer who once won a prestigious MacArthur Genius Grant but who now owes the county another $10 million. Gimenez’s move also sticks in the craw of other nearby business owners.
"The county can't find the money to fix this property that they own," seethes Tyrone Greene, whose long-running Greene Dream Shoe Repair's county-owned building across the street is crumbling and mold-infested. "But they can find the funds to pay taxes on Mr. Pitts’s building."
Neither Pitts nor his lobbyist, Al Dotson, returned calls for comment. A memo to county commissioners says Gimenez had to forgive Pitts's taxes or the county might have lost its right to claim the property. The mayor didn't respond to a request for comment.
Either way, the move exposes how Pitts's once-lauded project, Edison Marketplace, has failed to create more than 200 promised jobs.
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Pitts, a former Miami cop, was the recipient of a prestigious MacArthur grant in 1990 for his redevelopment projects in Liberty City.
Seven years ago, through his company, Peninsula Edison Plaza, he secured more than $13 million in public funds, including a $7.2-million loan from HUD. He used the money to build the retail complex, which is anchored by a Presidente Supermarket and counts a GameStop, a Foot Locker, a Family Dollar, and a CAC Medical Centers office as tenants.
But Pitts has been stiffing the county for two years, according to a default letter from Deputy Mayor Russell Benford. Peninsula has not made a monthly mortgage payment of $52,891 since February 2010. He also skipped out on his property tax bills, forcing the county to cover the debt or else lose the property in a tax deed auction sale.
Benford informed Pitts he has until May 6 to pay the $10 million; otherwise, the county will foreclose and take over management of Edison Marketplace.