Miami-Dade Commission to vote on multi-million dollar Liberty Square redevelopment

By Francisco Alvarado, 

A rendering from Miami's proposed Liberty Square redevelopment project

A rendering from Miami’s proposed Liberty Square redevelopment project

Three years after taking over the affordable-housing division of a scandalous company that defrauded $26 million from the federal government, Atlantic Pacific Communities is still dealing with the fallout.

On July 6, Miami-Dade commissioners will vote on whether to award a multimillion-dollar contract to redevelop the county’s oldest public housing project to a competitor.

Last month, the Florida Housing Finance Corporation (FHFC) ruled Atlantic Pacific was not eligible for a combined $4.6 million in tax-credit financing for the renovation of three elderly apartment complexes in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

The reason: Now-defunct Carlisle Development Corp. — which in 2013 sold Atlantic Pacific its low-income apartment development business – owed $1,000 in fines and failed to submit audited financials in 2014 and 2015 for the construction of four affordable housing complexes Carlisle built with low-income housing tax credits worth $70 million.

Cecka Green, spokeswoman for FHFC, told she could comment only broadly about developers that fail to meet the corporation’s requirements.

“Principals that have not complied with the rules that govern the various funding programs for which Florida Housing awards funding can be deemed ineligible for future funding, per the rules that govern the application process,” Green said in an email. “Keep in mind that the decision of the board is subject to challenge in an administrative hearing proceeding.”

In an email response to questions, Atlantic Pacific spokeswoman Jennifer Wade Pfeffer claimed one of her company’s executives, former Carlisle vice president Liz Wong, was mistakenly listed as a Carlisle principal in a May 11 FHFC report identifying delinquent developers. Those on the list would not be eligible for funding in the 2016-17 fiscal year under guidelines set by the FHFC.

Pfeffer said Atlantic Pacific has notified the finance corporation that it is appealing the denial through an administrative hearing for rejected applicants. “The FHFC erred,” Pfeffer said. “We are confident this error will be corrected through the protest process.”

Last summer, Carlisle chief executive Matthew Greer, company co-founder Lloyd Boggio and three other builders were indicted by a federal grand jury as part of a conspiracy to submit inflated construction contracts to FHFC in order to obtain excessive federal tax credits.

A scheme costly for taxpayers

 Affordable-housing developers sell the tax credits to investors — usually banks or hedge funds — in order to build equity capital for construction of their projects.

In addition to receiving kickbacks from other individuals involved in the scheme, Greer and Boggio lined their pockets with the excess funds instead of paying for construction costs, according to the criminal complaint against the two men. Boggio is the only defendant who is going to trial. The others, including Greer, pleaded guilty. Greer’s parents are Bruce Greer, a prominent Miami lawyer and one-time federal judge nominee who founded Carlisle with Boggio, and Evelyn Greer, a former Miami-Dade School Board member and former Pinecrest mayor.

Pfeffer said the four Carlisle projects flagged by FHFC are not owned or managed by Atlantic Pacific. “We did not acquire those developments,” she said.

The FHFC rejection of tax-credit eligibility comes at crucial time for Atlantic Pacific. The company is making a final push to reclaim its front-runner status in the politically contentious battle to redevelop Liberty Square, Miami-Dade’s oldest public housing project. Miami-Dade commissioners are to vote Wednesday on Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s recommendation to negotiate a contract with Related Urban Development Group, which knocked Atlantic Pacific out of the top spot in February.

If approved, Related will receive $48 million in county funds for its $287-million development proposal that includes 1,527 residential units, a 40,000-square-foot supermarket and a 20,000-square-foot community center.

Both firms have funneled large amounts of campaign cash to Gimenez’s 2016 re-election campaign and his political action committee, Miami-Dade Residents First. Related and entities with the same address as the developer have kicked in $52,000, while Atlantic Pacific and its entities have pumped in $29,000, according to campaign finance reports.

Atlantic Pacific’s Pfeffer denied the contributions were tied to winning Gimenz’s support. “We are long-standing supporters of Mayor Gimenez, as are many of the larger developers in Miami-Dade County,” she said.

However, Atlantic Pacific appears to have won over County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson, whose district includes Liberty Square and a mixed-used development that entails a 76-unit apartment building, a bus station and a community theater on Northwest Seventh Avenue between 61st and 62nd streets. At the Seventh Avenue project’s April 29 grand opening, Atlantic Pacific announced the development would be named the Audrey Edmonson Transit Village.

Pfeffer said the gesture was done “in honor of [Edmonson’s] demonstrated dedication to revitalizing Liberty City.”

Nonetheless, Edmonson has on multiple occasions publicly criticized Gimenez for convening a second evaluation committee in January to rank final proposals by Related and Atlantic Pacific after an initial committee had recommended that Atlantic Pacific get the Liberty Square contract.

Edmonson has received $1,750 from Atlantic Pacific for her current re-election campaign and collected $15,000 in bundled donations from Carlisle in 2012. The development rights to the transit village were included in Atlantic Pacific’s purchase of Carlisle’s assets.

At a May 12 county commission committee hearing, Edmonson failed to get a vote on her request to force Gimenez to also negotiate with Atlantic Pacific and allow the company to counter Related’s offer.

According to archived video of the meeting, Edmonson said: “I’m not throwing Related out. I just want the best deal for this community.” She did not return two phone calls seeking comment.

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