Real Estate

Wynwood Board Slams Developer Moishe Mana for "Bait-and-Switch" Tactics

Real-estate mogul Moishe Mana, the largest landowner in Wynwood, has huge plans for the arts district. He's trying to convert a space he owns in the neighborhood's southwest corner into a full arts-themed village, complete with a promenade, shops, galleries, and 24-story residential towers.

Mana's team has spent months crafting agreements with the Wynwood Business Improvement District (BID), a board of business owners and developers tasked with approving new projects, in advance of a September vote by the city commission on the ambitious plan.

But now the BID is crying foul. At a meeting last night, members claimed that someone in Mana's camp tried to change the text of that agreement to benefit his company without warning them first and threatened to withdraw support for the project altogether.  

"You guys try to cram new information in front of us like a pop quiz, and we have to react," BID vice chair Albert Garcia said during a public meeting yesterday, according to a video posted by blogger Al Crespo. Garcia added later, "We feel this is a bit of a bait-and-switch. I'm personally offended on behalf of the community."

Reached on his cell phone, Mana said he wasn't even aware why or when his company changed the agreement.

"I am not aware of the details," he said. "My people came up with this. I've been traveling, so I said, 'OK, guys, you deal with it.' I'm going back to Miami this week, I'm going to understand the issue more, and then I can respond to it."

At the heart of the argument is $10 million that Mana promised to pay to the BID's Public Benefits Trust, which the board uses to help fund infrastructure improvements such as better public transportation. In exchange for the money, the BID would back Mana's move to obtain an exemption in the zoning code for his residential towers; in Wynwood, buildings must top out at 12 stories in certain areas. 

Though Mana does not technically need the BID's approval, he does need the city commission's permission. The city would be less likely to sign off on the project if Wynwood's other business owners didn't like the plan. So Mana's group drafted a resolution agreeing to the BID's terms, and then the BID signed off on it. 

But at the BID's meeting yesterday, board member David Polinksy, who owns the 250 Wynwood residential complex and has a PhD in mechanical engineering, castigated Mana for making changes to that same plan. The edits, he said, came at the "11th hour."

The main point of concern: The Mana group had cut its contribution to the public-benefits program from $10 million to about $2.5 million. 

"We thought that we had achieved a reasonable balance of interests in a four-page document resolution passed by the Wynwood BID board on March 2," Polinsky said. "It was ratified by the Mana team at the first public hearing in April."

Polinsky then held up a sheet of paper that he said showed how much money Mana's group had tried to stiff the neighborhood on. At the top, he wrote the maximum amount of money the BID could have asked for — more than $31 million — in huge, 80-point font. Under that, he wrote Mana's agreed-to contribution of $10 million, and then under that wrote the $2.5 million that Mana had tried to write into its latest proposal. He used eight-point font.

Though he then stressed that he didn't blame Mana for trying to make added money, and overall supported Mana's ideas, he said it was unfair to try to renegotiate deals the parties had already agreed to "with 45 minutes of discussion in a public forum."

With Zika hitting Wynwood, Polinsky said the public-benefits program needs the money "now more than ever."

Garcia, meanwhile, said the changes were "unbecoming of the leader Mr. Mana subscribes to want to be," and BID chair Joe Furst said the changes were "disappointing, frustrating, and disheartening."

Mana's group, meanwhile, says the missing $7.5 million won't simply vanish — instead of going to the BID, Mana's representatives say, the money will go to the Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Redevelopment Agency because the new development borders the north end of Overtown. Mana's group blamed Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon, who represents Overtown, for asking for the change.

But the BID just called that excuse a "copout," given the fact that it was the Mana group that changed the agreement.

The BID did not vote to support the project. Instead, the board will meet again to discuss Mana's proposals August 31.

Mana says he still believes he can reach an agreement with the BID. He stresses that he wants the project to feel like it's "part of the neighborhood."

"We'll go back and forth [with the BID]," he says. "We have the interest of the neighborhood at heart, and Miami at heart. I don’t just see this as a money issue — we're building the cultural infrastructure of Miami. We'll get to some kind of an agreement."

Polinsky tells New Times he still supports Mana's "vision" — just not the way he's currently handling the deal.

"There are going to be many moments, and this was just a particular moment where we expressed our frustration," he said.