Before the Bulldozer Bites

Steve Shiver is not accustomed to sitting on the sidelines. He occupied the spotlight as a Homestead City Council member, Homestead mayor, and Miami-Dade County manager before exiting life as a public servant last June, following a flap over the county's budget deficit. Shiver's new endeavor casts him in a supporting, but still influential, role. When the 37-year-old lobbyist and consultant introduced himself at a recent Homestead city workshop, his re-entry to public life raised few eyebrows.

"Steve Shiver, representing M&H Homestead," he told a group of about 25 people crowded into a back room of Homestead City Hall. Though Shiver has taken work as a technology consultant for Nextel and IBM, his employer on this day reminded everyone of his former life as a real estate developer in Homestead. M&H is owned by Michael Latterner and Wayne Rosen and needed a local representative at the city meeting to protect the interests of an M&H-owned property known as Keys Gate -- an 800-acre housing development just east of U.S. 1 in Homestead. Shiver, the registered lobbyist for the company, attended on behalf of M&H, claiming the company has a no-compete clause with a separate property the council was discussing in the workshop.

Yet even while he sought recognition for his client's rights, Shiver also worked to gain support for a project that would have M&H relinquishing its claim over this same land. The main topic at the city council workshop that day was a proposal by an umbrella company known as Culturally Designed Communities seeking approval to develop a 531-acre area between SW 328th and SW 344th streets, which is adjacent to land owned by M&H.

"We are here in support of this [CDC] proposal," Shiver said during one of his few interjections.

M&H Homestead's backing of the CDC proposal showcases Shiver's utility as a lobbyist. CDC says it has lined up hundreds of Chinese investors and managers to pump money and import business leaders into the area, in turn providing employment for South Dade's burgeoning population. CDC's proposed industrial park, for example, would produce clothing, cured fish products, electronic components, and computers. The company estimates revenue from the projects in the first five years of operations will reach close to $1 billion for manufacturing and more than $2 billion for attendant services such as retail outlets and small shops. Ice cream and yogurt sales alone are projected at $15 million. (Earlier talk of panda bears and replicas of the Great Wall of China and Tiananmen Square have been shelved.)

Though these economic multipliers and financial projections seem like pie in the sky, CDC's consulting team is the salt of the earth. Activist, environmental consultant, and Miami attorney George Knox is heading CDC's public policy efforts. Former South Florida AFL-CIO leader Marty Urra is pulling together contractors. Longtime developer William S. Tamminga is concentrating on pinning down Chinese investment. Marty Rogol, who worked with Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader and helped organize the "Hands Across America" campaign, is head of marketing. These four men are the registered lobbyists for the CDC.

According to reports filed with the Florida Secretary of State, Culturally Designed Communities of Florida's officers and directors include Tamminga, John Robinson, and William R. Nunnally. Urra also names a fourth director, Charlie Ball.

Shiver, who is listed as a consultant on CDC's proposal, steers clear of talking about his direct role in the project. Instead, he promotes CDC's vision. "They've got a great project put together ... [and] I feel very comfortable with the team they put together," he says. "[But] I represent M&H Homestead."

Productive use of the land next to M&H Homestead's property will increase the value of the company's holdings. It will also keep the competition at bay. Along with CDC, Landstar Homes is bidding for the 531 acres. Like M&H, Landstar is focused on housing. The company has built hundreds of housing units in the last year but is scrambling to keep up with demand. Prices for land have skyrocketed from $30,000 per acre in the Homestead area to an astounding $250,000 over the past decade. In this competitive market, Landstar's loss is M&H's gain. CDC's proposal also outlines this point. "Keys Gate [of M&H Homestead]," it reads, "fully understands CDC's primary need for the land as a residential market being brought by CDC, related to its project, and a project that may actually make the area more attractive to consumers for all developers due to the employment impact on the area."

Shiver's support may prove critical for CDC. In addition to getting M&H Homestead approval for the project, he can schmooze with his old cronies. Indeed, according to CDC lobbyists, Shiver's role is to tackle local officialdom. "We asked him to help us manage relationships in the south end of the county," explains Urra. "His role has been more in mediating, if you will, with any of the parties that are involved, and that would include Keys Gate [of M&H Homestead]."

During the workshop, Homestead council members seemed suspicious of CDC's proposal, which they had not seen in its entirety. Shiver, along with Knox and Urra, sought to soothe concerns. The former Homestead mayor also seems to understand that the city could use this land as a tax base. As it stands, the 531-acre area is environmentally protected, or what's known as "mitigated" land; preserving it was part of the deal for Homestead to be able to build the Homestead-Miami Speedway on SW 137th Avenue. The CDC's team may be the only one with the environmental credentials to leap the county, state, and federal hurdles to unmitigate the land. CDC says it will be using LEED's (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) criteria -- a criteria developed by the U.S. Green Building Council -- to develop the area. It must also purchase unprotected land in another part of the county and convert it into an environmentally protected area in order to compensate for the development of the mitigated property.

The CDC project is a fitting way for Shiver to begin his post-county career. During his years as a politician, Shiver has proven that he can work both sides of an issue, regularly handing out lucrative government contracts to his friends and campaign contributors while keeping the voters happy with the results. As CDC's Urra points out, "I have found that whenever someone has contacts and relationships, we've been able to work together and produce win-wins."

At the end of the workshop, Homestead City Council members asked for more time to look closely at the CDC proposal and to assess Landstar's counteroffers. Shiver and the CDC consultants stepped through the back door of city hall, shook hands, and exchanged pleasantries. The CDC team immediately sought his input. But with a reporter near, he shook them off. "We'll talk," he said, and he walked away.

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