Florida International University

A Miami-Dade county transit village has been the topic of conversation for most of the business owners on the southeast block of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Seventh Ave. in Liberty City

The NW 7th Ave Transit Village project, a transit hub comprising housing, retail, parking and bus stops, plans to relocate the current store owners who occupy space on the block.  The project experienced its share of setbacks with the county-based Empowerment Trust, a Miami-Dade program that grants tax money to businesses in designated empowerment zones.

The trust loaned tax money to Atlanta-based developer Red Rock Global to build the hub, but plans were never set in stone due to the company’s failure to document expenses, which were allegedly spent on travel, meals and entertainment.  The project went into limbo until County Commissioner Audrey Edmondson revived the project. 

Yet some business owners say they haven’t heard much from the county lately.

Azweem Ali, who’s managed Furniture Kingdom for almost 25 years, said county representatives have not spoken to him since the new year, when they notified Ali that Miami-Dade Transit purchased five parcels of land.

“I haven’t heard anything from the county in the past three months,” Ali said. “All of this talk of relocation has been physically and mentally affecting me for years.”

Ali, who runs the store with his co-manager, Satima Alzee, said the county has already sent people to take a look at the store’s furniture.

“They came and took inventory of the store so they can know how much to transport when they relocate us,” Ali said.  “I don’t know any date or any deadline, but they have to give us three months notice.”

Karla Damian, Miami-Dade Transit’s Public Information Officer, said the project is still at a preliminary stage.  Transit is currently developing requests for proposal to present to construction and engineering companies interested in building the transit hub.

The project, introduced by former District 3 County Commissioner Barbara Carey-Shuler more than five years ago, has gone through many phases.  With $10 million in allocated money from the Federal Transit Administration, the transit village was set to be a mixed-use complex of apartments, stores, bus facilities and a parking garage.  For unknown reasons, the project was scrapped.

But Edmonson, the current District 3 county commissioner, grew interested in the project after joining the board in 2005.

“After looking into it, I saw that it was a project that needed to stay alive,” said Edmondson, who is also chairperson of the Housing and Economic Developing Committee. 

“This is something the residents want and it will serve as an economic catalyst for the community.”

The county held several community meetings about the transit village project, and many of the residents supported the idea.

“Well, anything that’s gonna bring jobs and economic vitality to the community is a good thing,” said Ken Knight, a local activist who attended one of the town hall meetings.

Marvin Weeks, who sits on the city of Miami Arts and Entertainment Council, said the project can only improve Seventh Avenue. 

“We’re trying to enhance the Seventh Ave Corridor,” said Weeks, who’s heavily involved in the revitalization of the street.  “We’re trying to change its image.”

Since the project’s revival, more money has been put into the transit village.  The estimated cost is between $47 million and $50 million.  Along with FTA funds, $15.5 million  will come from General Obligation Bonds to go toward the affordable housing component and a theater.  The remaining amount will come from the developer.

Some of the business owners on the block are already looking to relocate.

“Right now, I’m looking for another place to move,” said Leon Athouris, owner of Leon Custom Tailor and Fashion Boutique, at 6131 NW 7th Ave.  “So far, there’s no piece of paper to guarantee us to come back.”

Others, like Eddy Mercure, manager of La Belle Vue Restaurant, however, just moved into the block.

“I mean, I just opened the place a month and a week ago,” said Mercure.  “Some of my neighbors have told me about the project, but before I move I’ve got to find a place.”