Scott Galvin Decries "Slush Fund" In North Miami Biscayne Landing Vote UPDATE

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Tonight, North Miami commissioners will vote on the future of the city's most important asset -- 193-acres of waterfront land that have been in limbo since the real estate bust killed the last development and a more recent idea -- to let a business partner of Mayor Andre Pierre build (really!) an indoor ski slope -- fell victim to a bout of sanity. The newest plan calls for a multi-million dollar lease to developer Michael Swerdlow, who wants to build a complex with shops, a hotel and a community center.

The plan, notably, also includes a $500,000 injection to a mysterious city nonprofit that has no board of directors or mission statement. "It's a slush fund," Commissioner Scott Galvin tells Riptide. "There's no good that can come of that."

Update: The commission voted down Swerdlow's proposal, 3-1. The project will go back to bidding yet again

Galvin tells Riptide he'll vote against the 129-page agreement (which you can read in full below) at tonight's meeting. There's a tremendous amount at stake in this project for Dade's fifth largest town; a successful Biscayne Landing development would be a golden goose for the town, while another swing and miss could doom the city's budgets for decades.

"The slush fund alone is reason enough to vote against this plan," Galvin says. "But we were also only given this giant document on Thursday. There has not been due diligence on this."

Most expect the project to pass tonight despite Galvin's complaints. Commissioner Michael Blynn has voiced his support for the deal, and Commissioner Jean Marcellus usually votes with Pierre, who helped orchestrate the deal.

(Underscoring Galvin's fears of shady dealings behind the scenes on this project: Fourth commissioner Marie Steril will sit out tonight's vote after an ethics probe found her personal non-profit had gotten $6,000 from Swerdlow.)

The $500,000 donation at the heart of Galvin's concerns would go toward a nonprofit called the North Miami Educational Foundation. Although the city has filed paperwork to establish the group, Galvin says no one has briefed the commission on what the money would do or who would distribute it.

"That's a lot of money that will presumably be overseen by political appointees," Galvin says. "Would it go toward kids' educations? Adult education? We have no idea."

Riptide called Swerdlow to ask about the charitable donation, but we haven't heard back. We'll update this post if we do.

Galvin says despite Blynn's pledge to vote for the agreement, he's not certain it will pass; the project's backers have been lobbying him heavily to change his vote, he says.

"If they can count to three around me, why am I getting so many calls?" he asks.

Update: Swerdlow disputes Galvin's claim that the charity donations will be a "slush fund" and argues North Miami "will not have an opportunity like this again" to redevelop Biscayne Landing.

"If I thought that fund was a 'slush fund' ... we wouldn't have agreed to make those contributions," Swerdlow tells Riptide. 

Rather, Swerdlow says he wants the project to make a difference to North Miami students. "I will always support education for poor children. I want to see every student, rich or poor graduate from high school and at least get a chance to go to college," he says.

The developer adds that he "gave the city everything they wanted in this lease" and "spent a good deal of money accommodating the city." 

"This deal also balances their budget, creates a cash surplus for first time in long time in North Miami, will generate vast future real estate taxes, and provides a tremendous amount of money to the CRA to improve housing," Swerdlow says. "And most importantly, it will create an enormous number of jobs." 

Here's the full agreement with Swerdlow, via Eyeonmiami:

Lease, City Draft March 6, 2012

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