On the brink of a long-awaited go ahead for a major economic development project with jobs, training and business opportunities for area residents, supporters of the Carrie Meek Foundation are preparing for the type of smear campaign that has become the norm in this community whenever historically underserved people are promised a piece of the pie.   Whenever organizers in Miami-Dade’s underserved communities are on the brink of some important success, a campaign to discredit is launched and our community is kept from flourishing.

The most recent target is a proposed industrial park project with space for up to 60 businesses at the Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport. As many as 2,300 full-time jobs are projected with an average salary of $37,000. Considerable improvement is expected in the area’s current average household income of $21,000, poverty rate of 32% and unemployment of about 13%.

On October 16th, the County Commissions’ Economic Development and Port Miami Committee approved $5 million in funding from the Building Better Communities General Obligation Bond (GOB) program for improvements to utilities and public parking needed for the Carrie Meek International Business Park at the Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport.   The projection is for 1.75 million feet of industrial/warehouse space that will yield county wide and local benefits to residents.

The Carrie Meek Foundation is partnering with CNL Commercial Real Estate to develop the industrial park with both aviation and non-aviation components on airport property the Foundation has leased from the Miami-Dade Aviation Department.

The GOB funds sought for the industrial park are part of the $352 million approved by Miami-Dade voters in 2004 for bridges, public infrastructure and neighborhood improvements. The Economic Development Fund portion is $75 million and must be used for grants that spur economic development and attract new businesses to the community in order to create jobs.

The County Commission will vote on November 5th on whether and how much to allocate for the project and can direct the Mayor to begin negotiations for a grant agreement that must come back to the Commissioners for final approval. The Miami-Dade Department of Regulatory and Economic Resources will monitor the creation and retention of new jobs, average salaries, private investment and other performance measures.

The Carrie Meek Foundation is a not-for-profit organization founded by the beloved Congresswoman who was the first Black woman elected to the Florida Senate and the first Black person since Reconstruction elected to represent Floridians in the U.S. Congress. An educator, civil rights and community activist, Congresswoman Meek secured hundreds of millions in funding dollars for local programs and services. After retiring from the U.S. House, Representative Meek has dedicated her time and service to the Carrie Meek Foundation.   The Foundation has sponsored and promoted a host of innovative and effective programs for education, affordable housing, healthcare, economic development and community empowerment.

As have many organizations, both for-profit and not-for-profit, the Carrie Meek Foundation has gone through some upheaval during the recent challenges of the deep economic recession. I understand that the Foundation’s Board of Directors is restructuring and nearing a full recovery.

While these efforts are ongoing, questions have been raised in the Miami Herald about the Foundation’s continued viability. Why is there no Executive Director or other paid staff? Why is the Foundation’s website not operating properly? Who is really in charge?   Efforts to discredit the Carrie Meek Foundation are likely to raise questions about the ability of the partnership to make the most of the $5 million in infrastructure improvements at the Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport.

Questions should be asked about the ability of all county contractors to fulfill their obligations. Just last week, the County Commission approved the award of $3.3 billion for water and sewer improvements without a single inquiry from the media. Commissioners placed our trust in the Mayor and his staff to fully vet the organization.

In the face of concerns about the partnership that will create the Carrie Meek International Business Park, those of us who are pushing for significant investments into the vitality of Miami-Dade County’s underserved communities are waiting to see if the traditional obstacles are placed in our path to hamper progress.