Columns

Otis Pitts Jr. Owes Miami-Dade County $10 Million On Failed Project

A prominent African-American 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 for his

plans to transform Liberty City but who now owes the county another

$10 million for a loan and could soon lose the property.


Gimenez's move also sticks in the craw of other nearby business owners who say they get no such love from county hall.

"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, though, says that paying the taxes on the property will make sure Miami-Dade didn't lose it in a tax deed auction sale.

Either way, the move exposes how Pitts's once-lauded project, Edison Marketplace, has failed to create more than 200 promised jobs as part of his plans to revitalize the struggling neighborhood. 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, county-administered loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 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 single 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.

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.

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.