Parking lot where Miami Worldcenter will be at west side of NE 2nd Ave between 9th St and 8th St.
Parking lot where Miami Worldcenter will be at west side of NE 2nd Ave between 9th St and 8th St. (J. Albert Diaz)

Two distinct government bodies castigated the developer behind Miami Worldcenter last week for its approach to dealing with the residents and businesses affected by that project. The tongue-lashings came in an otherwise positive week for a venture set to turn a huge underdeveloped swath of downtown Miami into a retail center.

In considering completely separate issues, both Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal and the Miami’s Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board heard from and sided with people claiming poor outreach by the ownership of Miami Worldcenter. What we got here, the government bodies agreed, is failure to communicate.

The criticism was by no means earth-shattering for the future builder of the 750,000-square-foot retail facility, planned on 17 acres from Northeast Second Avenue and North Miami Avenue and from the Florida East Coast Railway tracks to Northeast 10th Street. The Zoning board, for one, unanimously approved the developer’s plan to close down sections of Northeast Seventh, Northeast Eighth and Northeast Ninth Streets to vehicular traffic. The closings are necessary for developing several pedestrian retail zones there.

But while granting their approval, several members of the board chastised the Greenberg Traurig land-use lawyers speaking on behalf of Miami Worldcenter at the meeting March 19, characterizing as “bad communication” the outreach to those likely affected by the project. In a separate development, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal handed Miami Worldcenter a legal defeat in an eviction case against a tenant at the proposed site. The case hinged on the fact Miami Worldcenter had failed to properly communicate with that tenant prior to filing eviction proceedings.

At the planning board meeting, Greenberg land-use attorneys Ryan Bailine and Iris Escarra noted the Miami Worldcenter owners had been in discussions last year about potential parking and traffic problems with the local Community Redevelopment Authority and were recently having talks with the Miami Heat—main tenants at the American Airlines Arena nearby. They’ve also spoken with developer Chateau Group, which owns a large plot of land abutting Miami Worldcenter’s lot. But a steady stream of residents and business owners located near the project took the floor of the meeting to say they were disappointed not to have been approached so far.

“The community is not the Heat or the CRA. The community is people like me,” said Bradley Knoefler, a local activist and businessman who lives nearby and who has a long and mixed history with Miami Worldcenter. Knoefler made millions selling property to Miami Worldcenter but saw his brainchild project of a private park on North Miami Avenue fall victim to the development last year.

A woman who identified herself as a resident of 800 N. Miami Ave., which abuts the project, also said she felt like there had not been enough communication about traffic and parking issues with her and her neighbors.

Several planning board members agreed.

“What bothers me is that your client took the time to talk to corporate America but not to the people that live there,” chided former Miami-Dade Circuit Judge David Young, a board member.

“You’ve shown that you haven’t communicated with the neighbors,” Juvenal Pina, another board member, told the developer’s attorneys while saying his vote would depend on a promise to do better in the future.

In a statement to the DBR after the meeting, Bailine, one of the Greenberg attorneys representing the project, defended his client: “All notices required under the city code were sent out and will continue to be sent out accordingly, throughout the development process. Miami Worldcenter Associates will continue reaching out to and meeting with neighbors, local officials and other groups in the community about the project as its moves toward construction commencement.”

But part of the issue appears to be Miami Worldcenter indeed stuck to just the letter of the law in reaching out to some parties possibly affected by the project. Zoning regulations require that transformational projects, working with the city of Miami, notify owners of property within 500 feet of the proposed project site via certified mail. But the rules say only homeowner’s associations, and not individual homeowners or residents near a proposed project site need be notified.

Board member Betty Gutierrez asked Miami Worldcenter and the city staff to send notices to all residents nearby this particular project from now on.

Bailine promised the developer would have more communications with the tenants it’s displacing, will set up an office near the site where nearby businesses and residents can walk in with questions, and would notify individual residents—not just homeowner’s associations—of buildings abutting the project.

Future actions won’t necessarily help Miami Worldcenter in a case it lost against the owners of Grand Central, an alternative performance and club space located in a building set to be demolished as part of the future project. Miami WorldCenter has been trying to evict that tenant since early 2013, arguing the music lounge did not have proper insurance as required in the lease.

At the crux of the case was whether Miami Worldcenter properly delivered a certified letter to Grand Central notifying it of the breach and giving the business a chance to correct the error.

The Third DCA said because the letter sent by Miami Worldcenter was returned, as the trial court had previously found, there was no basis to pursue a claim of material breach of the lease.

“If they didn’t give notice, then it doesn’t matter: We win,” Scott Silver of Silver & Garvett P.A., who represented Grand Central, told the Daily Business Review. Silver suggested Miami WorldCenter had been acting in bad faith throughout the eviction proceedings and had used the bad communication as a ruse to “trap” his client.

“I know the group that’s involved in the project, and they’re a good development group and they’re very competent, but they got to work with people to make it happen,” Silver said.