AUGUST 22 , 2013


        “Sarnoff wrote he had met with ex-City Manager

        Joe Arriola at Coconut Grove's Grand Bay Hotel

        and was hit with a bombshell. The developer of a        

        controversial project, Arriola said, had to pay

        $100,000 to two Spence-Jones confidantes in

        exchange for the commissioner's vote.”

                                                - Francisco Alvarado

                                                CITY HALL STINKS

                                                Miami New Times

                                                February 14, 2008

        “He  (Pastor Gaston Smith) claimed that then-

        mayor's aide Spence-Jones urged him to found

        Friends of MLK, even suggesting the name. "Pastor

        Smith, we need an advocate group in the community,"

        the reverend quoted Spence-Jones as telling him.

        "You're the person for the job."


        Smith told investigators: "I remember that discussion

        taking place before grant money even came up."

        Spence-Jones then wrote the MMAP proposal for

        Smith, prosecutors say, and then-commissioner

        and longtime ally Barbara Carey-Shuler  helped

        push it through.

        The pastor told investigators the $8,000 paid to

        Karym Ventures was for Spence-Jones's marketing

        work: She helped get donations from Burger King

        Corp.  and former baseball star Mo Vaughn.

        "Did she earn $8,000, in your opinion?" prosecutor

        Scruggs asked.

        "Uh, in hindsight, I'd say no," Smith replied.

        The pastor fairly seethed during his conversation

        with the investigators. "Now that I've had the chance

        to think through this and look at the documents,"

        he said, "I feel completely violated... It's almost

        like date rape."

                                                -  Gus Garcia-Roberts

                                                IN THE NAME OF THE KING

                                                Miami New Times

                                                August13, 2009

There are a lot of people who believe that the past is prologue. But that’s not necessarily true. Lot of people change their lives, often for the better as they mature.

Take Commissioners Sarnoff and Spence-Jones.  They went through a pretty rough patch after that unpleasantness with the accusations of her soliciting a payoff through her pals for her vote on a controversial project, but now they seem to have patched things up and if you excuse the expression, they seem to be as thick as thieves.

Life is funny that way. People can turn over a new leaf and change their lives. Then again, sometimes they can’t or don’t. One never knows until an opportunity laded with temptations comes along. 


Last week the Miami Herald published a “story” written by their real estate writer Alfonso Chardy, titled, All Aboard Florida Seeks Downtown Miami Property For Train Hub.

If you didn’t pay much attention to the contents of the “story”  - and it appears that a lot of the folks who wrote responses to the story didn’t, because they focused their comments on the speed of the train, etc. - you might have mistakenly believed that this was a real news story. 

It wasn’t.  It was nothing more than a special service that the Miami Herald, aka The Doral Mullet Wrapper, provides to “important people” and advertisers when they need to get some self-serving information out that benefits them and their company agendas.

The self-serving puff pieces are written like they are news stories, and they are presented as news stories, but for sake of maintaining honestly in advertising, they should have a big Black border around them with a warning headline that says, THIS IS A JOURNALISTIC BLOWJOB PRESENTED BY THE MIAMI HERALD!

The story Chardy wrote was nothing but a setup piece on how All Aboard Florida, the private company that is going to provide high-speed rail service from Miami to Orlando was hoping to get their hands on 2 prime pieces of downtown property owned by the SEOPW CRA, whose Chairwoman is none other than Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones.

I first wrote about Commissioner Spence-Jones and her SEOPW CRA plans to give away a number of large chunks of Overtown property before she is forced to leave office in December in my story SAVE THE POOCH. That story dealt with the refusal of the SEOPW CRA to reveal the names of the members of the Selection Committee who were going to review proposals in response to RFP’s that had been let by the CRA for 3 City Blocks in Overtown. 

Those blocks were identified as Blocks 45, 55 and 56, and included the two blocks on the east-side of NW 2nd Avenue between 6th and 8th streets.

Here’s a the photo of those properties that I included in my previous story.

These 3 city blocks represent a significant portion of what used to be the heart of the original Overtown Business District and have historic as well as monetary value.


I was surprised - well actually not that surprised since I had caught Alfonso Chardy giving a reach around to those nice folks with Friends For The Marine Stadium a few months back in a story he did about that project - at how badly this story failed to address what regular folks would consider basic facts. Just a casual reading revealed that Chardy either relied solely on a press release, or phoned this story in from from the workout room at the new Herald headquarters in Doral.

First, the “story” revealed that the All Aboard Florida bid WAS NOT the top choice of the selection Panel. In a real news story the identity of who actually won the bid would be an important fact that a writer and editor would want to convey to the readers.

The answer is that question is that self-described, sometime local homebody Don Peebles, received the most votes by the Selection Panel for his Gateway Proposal.

Peebles is no stranger to many folks in South Florida and his local development history has had it’s colorful moments with such projects as The Royal Palm Hotel back in the 90’s that turned into a multi-year donnybrook with his partners and the City of Miami Beach, involving claims of $15 million plus in cost overruns, accusations of refusing to pay contractors for work done and also edging his partners out of the deal.

All of these activities generated lots of press along the way including a Two Part Series In New Times. (New Times Part I and Part II

Given Peebles history, Chardy’s failure to identity him and his project being the the top vote getter by the Selection Committee is a very significant fact to leave out of story involving a bid process involving public property and a government agency in Miami.

Secondly, the article claims that although All Aboard Florida came in second, the score was very close and, “As a result of the closeness, the CRA has decided to enter into simultaneous negotiations with both teams, the two highest-point getting responders,” Michael Reninger, the president of All Aboard Florida said. “Whatever deals get negotiated will be presented to the CRA board for their vote.”

Really? The President of All Aboard Florida is allowed to be the one who reveals a policy decision made by the SEOPW CRA that provides a his company with special treatment?

Unlike horseshoes, when it comes to competing in a government RFP bid process, close doesn’t count when it comes to who gets to negotiate a contract.

The normal RFP bid process is based on the premise that the winner get’s first shot to negotiate a contract.

Given that this decision to bypass normal bid procedures was made by the SEOPW CRA Executive Director Clarence Woods, Chardy should have contacted him to have Woods explain the justification for deciding to allow All Aboard Florida to participate in a contract negotiation even though they they lost the bid.  That’s what coming in 2nd means - you lost.   

So Chardy not only kept critically important information out of his “story,” but he also failed to source a critical piece of information by relying on the recipient of special treatment to reveal that information. 

A real news story, written by a competent reporter would have included at least a reference if not an explanation that any decision that would allow competing bidders to engage in simultaneous contract negotiations like this, provided an opportunity for extortion, payoffs and rigging of the final contract to take place.

Again, not an insignificant piece of information for folks in the City of Miami to be provided, given the history of chicanery that passes for governance in this Banana Republic.

Lastly, in addition to his failure to question Clarence Woods, Chardy also failed to get Commissioner Spence-Jones on the record about this deal.

So, like I said, this was never a real news story, this was nothing other than a puff piece for All Aboard Florida to position themselves in a favorable light as part of their overall campaign to justify their being awarded the contract.


And what a contract it will be. The real story about this deal, like so many other deals in Miami is the story about the money, specifically the claim made by All Aboard Florida’s president Michael Reninger that, “their goal is to get the SEOPW CRA to sell them both pieces of property for $5.5 million.


And who exactly came up with $5.5 million being the amount that these two city blocks were worth?

There is not a mention in either the RFP, or in the SEOPW CRA’s 2002 and 2009 Redevelopment Plans, or in any other public document I’ve reviewed where there is the slightest mention of any dollar amount for the value of the properties identified in RFP 13-002.

Because this information was not included in the RFP Bid request, one has to assume that it was withheld on purpose, because $5.5 million for two blocks of downtown Miami property ($2.75 million per block,) is certainly information that would have captured the attention of more than a few potential developers.

Why you ask?  Well, when you’re talking about 2 downtown city blocks, each going for $2.75 million, that means that these properties are selling for less than a lot of 2 bedroom condos on Biscayne Boulevard.

Let that sink in. Two city blocks in downtown Miami are reportedly being sold by a public agency for less than the price of a 2 bedroom condo!

Equally, if not more important than the actual price is the question of how that price was calculated? 

In order to try and get a handle on that question let’s start with the RFP that was issued by the SEOPW CRA for Blocks 45 & 56.

The RFP describes the property in question as being zoned T6-24-0-Urban Core,” and describes them as being “180,000 square feet more or less” in size. The Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser actually lists each of these properties as being 2.06 acres in size, for a combined total of 4.12 acres.

Is $5.5 million a fair market price for 2 downtown city blocks tat consist of over 4 acres? 

Not if you look directly across NW 6th street to the south of these properties, where at 530 NW 1st Court, a parcel totaling 22,500 square feet that includes the first 5 floors of the shell of a residential/commercial venture that went belly up during the market crash is currently going for $3,950.000.

This property is zoned T-6-36A-0 Urban Core, which means that it can accommodate a building 12 floors higher than the CRA’S property across the street zoned T6-24-0.

It would be an apple and oranges comparison to use this property’s $7,647,200 per acres price in calculating the value of the 4.12 acres of SEOPW CRA property.

But what we can do is adjust the total amount by doing some straight forward math.

First, the height of T6 properties are calculated in 12 story increments once you reach 12 floors. So, if we use the $7,647,200 price per acre for 36 floors,($42.48 per square foot,) that comes to $30,585,000.

If you reduce the number of floors by a third, and reduce the price by a third to correspond to the loss of floors, you end up with a price of $22,938.750.

That, I believe, is not an unreasonable price for these 4 plus acres of downtown property. To be even more conservative, let’s round it off at $20,000,000.

Therefore, if you subtract the $5.5 million that Michael Reninger claims that he wants to pay for this property from $20,000.000, it leaves a difference of $14,500,000 as the amount of the “gift” that the SEOPW CRA would be giving to All Aboard Florida if they were to buy the property for $5.5 million.

Does that even make sense!?!

Who calculated the value of this property, and where are those documents? Why wasn’t there a mention that this property would be “sold” to the winning bidder spelled out in the RFP?  Why was the RFP that  was issued for this property only 3 pages long, and even worse, why was the RFP for the property across the street, RFP 13-003, only 1 page long? 

How much is THAT property going  to be “sold” for?

And lastly, why wasn’t there a “Cone of Silence” on these RFP bids? 

In all the time that I have been writing about the City of Miami and reviewing all the shady and skanky deals that have been done by the 5 Dwarfs on the City Commission I’ve never once come across an RFP Bid that included this sentence: “The “cone of silence” does not apply to this RFP, and thus, communication with the staff of the CRA and the City of Miami is permissible.”


Why aren’t these properties being treated the same way that other valuable city property like Grove Key Marina, Grove Key Harbor, Monty’s On The Bay, Watson Island and Virginia Key properties are treated? All of these properties are on long-term leases with the city continuing to own these properties.

Additionally, the language in RFP 13-002 calling for high-rise development on these properties does not comply with the stated goals of the 2002 and 2009 CRA Redevelopment Plans which called for controlled and/or reduced parking, and a development of this property built to a scale that reflects the historic nature of the original Overtown Business District?

The idea that Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, with less than 4 months left on her term would attempt to engage in a fire sale of CRA properties makes you appreciate why Paster Gaston Smith described his own dealing with her as a case of “date rape.”

No one in their right mind “sells” property valued at $20 million or more - keep in mind that property values are now increasing at a double digit rate per month in Miami - for $5.5 million without there being some sort of Quid-Pro-Quo!

No doubt in response to this story the Commissioner, the SEOPW CRA and the developers will be quick to respond that $5.5 million isn’t a giveaway because whoever gets this property is performing a public good by developing this empty property, and this alone should qualify them for a significant discount in leu of the economic benefits they will generate through jobs and increased tax revenue.

But that would all be double-talk. That argument would be true of anyone who took on the development of that, or any other property in downtown Miami.

All development generate construction jobs, subsequent site related jobs, and all development generates multiple sources of revenue including increased property taxes.

No matter what rock you turn over in the City of Miami you’ll find - as I have written about repeatedly - that the morons on the City Commission are always looking to give somebody a piece of city property for a lot less than market value, if not for free, which makes you wonder what the real return benefits for all these favors might just be?


This is turning out to be the year of the parking garages in the City of Miami.  First we have the battle brewing over the multi-level parking garage that is going to be built by the Miami Parking Authority on South Bayshore Drive in conjunction with the new Grove Key Marina deal, and now in addition to all the other issues I’ve raised, it appears that the real reason that All Aboard Florida wants this property so badly is that they want to put a 2000 car garage on this property as the centerpiece of their project.

LOT 55

LOT 56 & 45

The parking garage in the above photo has 7 floors including the rooftop, so if you double the number if parking spaces in the garage proposed by All Aboard Florida, that portion of the their project is going to be a beast.

In comparison to the garage, the total amount of commercial space that All Aboard Florida claims they will include as part of this project is only 153,200 square feet, making the parking lot huge by comparison.

You’ll notice there is also a mention of 250 new residences included in this project.  The Peebles/Gateway proposal also includes new residences, as well as a hotel, and while that plan also will include parking, the only reference I could find was 300 parking spaces in a single garage.

The Peebles/Gateway proposal calls for working with the Miami Parking Authority who has “multiple parking lots in the area including the lot adjacent to the Lyric Theater.”

To get some idea on size however, below are two illustrations providing a visual side view of these projects. I have highlighted in RED the garage area of the All Aboard Florida proposal.



While both of these proposals included numbers for the commercial and retail spaces, neither provided any numbers for the size of the proposed apartment/condos or hotel rooms. which makes possible that these rendering could change significantly by the time that the winning bidder submits a real set of architectural plans for the construction of this project.

Given that its the City of Miami that we’re talking about here, there is also the possibility that the zoning limit of T6-24-0 could end up becoming T6-36-0, because how hard would it be to get a variance for 12 more stories from the 5 Dwarfs on the City CommissIon?


Two years ago, when I first wrote about these properties,  it was about the scheme by then Commissioner Richard Dunn to give these, and several other properties in Overtown to Mathew Greer of the Carlisle Group, who had formed another company to do the deal,.

One result of my story was that the county stepped in because they were unhappy, not only with that deal, but also because there remained questions about the supposed reverter clauses in a lawsuit between the city and the county that had never been completely ironed out.

Those issues were finally resolved and a final settlement on these properties was filed on May 15, 2013.  One month later, on June 17, 2013 these properties were let out for bid under the RFP with a response deadline of July 22, 2013.

Under any circumstances, the issuance of an RFP seeking bids for a major development involving 2 city blocks of downtown Miami being issued and closed within a period of 35 days would raise questions.

That it was done with the results that I have revealed above should be reason enough for the FDLE and the Miami-Dade Inspector General to step in immediately for a complete review of all of the facets of this deal.

You don’t give away public property worth $20 million or more for $5.5 million unless the people giving away the property have lost their minds, or that they’ve got a agenda that includes screwing the taxpayers of Miami out of money that rightfully belongs to them.

The clock is ticking on Spence-Jones’ departure from the City Commission and the Chairmanship of the SEOPW CRA, and she is the one who is behind the scenes driving the train to get this deal approved ASAP.

For the protection of the citizens of Miami and Overtown, that should not be allowed to happen without a review to insure that the taxpayers don’t end up getting screwed royally by this deal. 

The SEOPW CRA has even more land that Spence-Jones wants to give away or develop through questionable deals, among them being an idea to stick a boat dock in the Miami River on a small piece of SEOPW CRA property down the street from Garcia’s Fish House restaurant so Bahamian fishermen can come to Miami to sell their fish?

Obviously the Commissioner never bothered to discuss that bizarre idea with local fishermen, so somebody might want to add that to the list of screwy ideas that also warrants an investigation.

But then again the local fishermen are mostly Cuban, and the Bahamians are mostly Black, and if the Commissioner has to go to a foreign county to help out some Black folks, then maybe we can make a trade. 

We’ll take the fishermen, and the Bahamas can have Spence-Jones.

It’s Miami, Bitches!

A 2000 car parking garage is a really big deal, and as we did  for the proposed garage on South Bayside drive, the math to determine how big a deal it is is pretty straight forward.

To determine the actual size of the garage estimate anywhere between 350 to 400 square feet per parking space, depending on entrance, exit and ramp requirements and just do the math. 350 square feet X 2000 spaces is 700,000 square feet. 400 square feet X 2000 spaces is 800,000 square feet.

That’s a pretty significant foot print, and to better appreciate how big that is, here is a photograph of the Overtown Transit Village that includes a parking garage with 961 parking spaces. The open space in the foreground is Block 56.



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It turns out that the SEOPW CRA had property appraisals of these properties done on July 21st, and those appraisals established a price for Blocks 45 & 56 at $9,870,000 each, for a total of $19,740,000, thereby making my estimates pretty spot on, allowing that even a 1% increase in property values over the last month would make my estimate lower than the street value.  The appraisal for Block 55 was $14,985,000.  Appraisals can be viewed HERE.