More wasted money in Liberty City

Author: Michael Putney, Political Reporter, mputney@Local10.com
Published On: Feb 08 2012 12:27:29 PM EST   Updated On: Feb 08 2012 12:31:34 PM EST
Michael Putney Voices
MIAMI -

I'm sure you'll be as relieved as I was to learn that four---count 'em four--small businesses in Liberty City will soon get their facades spruced up thanks to $428,545 of taxpayers' money.  It's small change compared to the millions, nay hundreds of millions, poured into Liberty City since the 1980 McDuffie riots, but still worth our attention.

The money comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by way of a federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG)---stay with me, more acronyms to come---and will be spent to renovate a few businesses on NW 7th Avenue with "new windows and doors, fresh paint, stucco work, new signage, awnings and lighting," according to a statement issued Friday by Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado and Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones. I normally hit delete when I get these ersatz news handouts, but this time I read through to the end as my curiosity---and ire---was piqued.

The store front renovations, the "press release" said, will come in two phases and will be overseen by NANA, the Neighbors and Neighbors Association, which is said to provide help in "low-income communities by providing technical assistance."  NANA will supervise the "exterior rehabilitation" of several businesses along NW 7th Ave. between 54th and 71st Streets.  And here's the best part. The new facades, we're assured, "will feature a contemporary Afro-centric architectural style."  Does anyone know what that means?  I don't.

The description of this project in almost impenetrable, grant-writer style government prose is meant to both make your eyes glaze over and allay fears that it's a boondoggle. But it's just more of the same gobbledygook we've seen since the McDuffie riots in 1980. Time after time, year after year, we've been told of one government-sponsored Liberty City improvement project after another, but for the life of me I can't see what difference they've made.  And I certainly can't see where the money has gone. Except into the pockets of unscrupulous community organizations and corrupt politicians, black and white.

Yes, you can point to Edison Towers and the Belafonte-Tacolcy Center as examples of government money that's made a positive difference to Liberty City, but can you name others?  Millions was spent to improve NW 62nd Street, as if that made life better in that neighborhood.  

I fear this "Northwest Seventh Avenue Commercial Rehabilitation Project" will be the latest in a string of short-term fixes and long-term failures. So a few businesses may look a little better. So what?  This truly is putting lipstick on a pig.

Here's a more basic question.  What's the rationale for spending $428,000 in public money to jazz up the facades of a privately-owned daycare center, beauty parlor, Chinese restaurant and bar and nightclub? A fundamental tenet of American enterprise is that a business succeeds by investing in and improving its location.  Why in this instance is government the investor?  And let's also point that out that the selfsame Comm. Spence-Jones was accused of illegally diverting $50,000 in Miami-Dade grant money for a cafe/art gallery/beauty spa in the same stretch of NW 7th Avenue. The Spence-Jones family enterprise failed; the charges against her were eventually dropped.

We're in the midst of a presidential election whose outcome will hinge, in no small part, on voters deciding what kind of society America wants to become:  an entrepreneurial, opportunity society or a give-me-a-handout entitlement society.  The NW 7th Avenue Commercial Rehabilitation Project looks like a prime example of the latter.    

There are restrictions on how CDBG money can be spent, but if it were up to me I'd use that $428,000 to train Liberty City residents in job skills so they could go to work at the nearby UM Life Science and Technology Park. Or for training to get a job at the upcoming Resorts World Miami.  Or spend it on after-school tutoring and other programs for Liberty City school kids.  To spend this money renovating the facades of four NW 7th Avenue businesses is a cosmetic fix for a systemic problem.  It's worse than putting lipstick on a pig.  It's putting a useless band-aid on a festering wound.