After over a year of vocal protests and intense debates, the commercial and residential development known as the Magic City Innovation District received final approval to be built in Little Haiti.
The Miami city commission voted 3-0 after 1 a.m. Friday to approve it after hours of heated discussion and public testimony from both sides of the matter. Two commissioners, Ken Russell and Joe Carollo, were not present for the vote.
Opponents and advocates for Magic City were at City Hall for over 10 hours waiting for the item on the commission’s agenda.
The mega-sized project has been controversial after pushback from Little Haiti residents who believe it will change the face of the neighborhood’s culture and displace residents, and worsen an already gentrifying area.
“I am committed to seeing the area revitalized in a responsible and regenerative way,” said Tony Cho, lead developer of the Magic City Innovation District.
Magic City will be great economic stimulus for Little Haiti and will preserve the identity that residents fear will be lost. It also aims to bring environmental solutions to Miami, Cho said.
“We need this innovation to be able to transform this city. Urban renewal is not easy,” he added. “We are working with a group of very well intentioned, forward thinking developers that are looking to make a positive impact on the community and leave an amazing legacy for generations to come.”
WLRN reported on the previous hearing on the project in March – where it also was heavily contested – when it received initial approval and the commission approved creation of the Little Haiti Revitalization Trust.
The trust would give Little Haiti $31 million for community benefits over the 10 to 15 years the project will take to be completed. Opponents have said that’s not enough for handling growing housing unaffordability, lack of jobs, and for potentially sacrificing the visual identity of their neighborhood.
Danielle Alvarez, communications director for the Magic City development team, reassured Magic City’s commitment to cooperate with the Little Haiti community as much as possible.
“We really have been working hand in hand with the community where they identify pain points and we find ways to take a step forward together,” Alvarez said.
“The reason that Little Haiti thrives is because of their culture and its why [developers] were interested in investing and growing with the community.”
The Family Action Network Movement has led the protests against the project since last year. Their leader and Haitian-American activist Marleine Bastien spoke on what’s next after the project’s approval.
“This is a sad day for Little Haiti,” Bastien said. “We need to reorganize and consider our options right now.”
The community came out amassed against the project and their demands for the community benefits packaged were ignored, she said.
“Our question is who will actually benefit from this sweet, cheap, deal? Who will? Only time will tell,” Bastien said.
The large development is known as a Special Area Plan, a zoning category that allows developers to shape projects outside of zoning codes in exchange for providing benefits to nearby communities.
Residents of Little Haiti and FANM members reflected their final protests during the public testimony. They argued climate change effects of the development, residents being “bulldozed” out of their homes, large buildings altering the face of the development, and the eradication of the neighborhood’s cultural identity.
Jean-Luc Adrien, an attorney for FANM, also pleaded their case.
“The median household income in Little Haiti is $24,800 dollars,” Adrien said. “This would primarily serve families with a median household income of $55,000 to $75,000.”
This would lead to families being forced to move, their attorney argued.
Among the disagreements for the project include that the development would feature buildings as high as 25 to 27 stories in a neighborhood whose buildings are one to two stories high.
Warren Perry, a concerned Little Haiti resident, stated his opposition in public testimony to the removal of the affordable and workforce housing provisions from the original Magic City plans after the negotiation of the Revitalization Trust.
“They want to give us 32 million to take those two components out of the project and make it an ultra-luxury project,” Perry said.
He argued the commission that community benefits like jobs and job training aren’t guaranteed and that Little Haiti would need much more to sustain itself with affordable housing and workforce housing.
Sagine Taluy, a community organizer with FANM, still intends to continue their opposition to the development.
“Whether it be an appeal, whether it’s strikes, boycotts, we’re willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that the community knows that we’re fighting for them and that the developers know that we’re not backing down,” Taluy said.