Friday, September 27, 2013

Liberty City theater named after colorful, controversial late commissioner

Photo courtesy The Miami Herald

Eight years after his death, the life of Arthur Teele remains celebrated by some in Miami. This past July, the city of Miami and District 5 commissioner, Michelle Spence-Jones, remembered Teele with a celebration at Charles Hadley Park.  This week, Spence-Jones dedicated Liberty City's black box theater at Charles Hadley Park in honor of Teele.

From Charles Rabin and The Miami Herald:

Only five weeks before the end of her second and final term in office, Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones followed through on a promise to her district: Naming the theater in Liberty City’s Charles Hadley Park after the late Arthur E. Teele, Jr.
“Today I wanted to do something publicly. We honor the late Arthur Teele,” said Spence-Jones.
The resolution to name the venue after the controversial former city commissioner passed 3-0, with votes from Spence-Jones, Commission Chair Marc Sarnoff and Commissioner Wifredo “Willy” Gort, who once shared the dais with Teele. From now on the theater at 1300 NW 50th St. will be called the Arthur E. Teele Jr. Black Box Theater.  
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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Overtown's Gibson Park Ribbon Cutting

From 11am to noon today, Overtown celebrates the $10.9 million renovation of Gibson Park with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The once empty grass field now boasts an Olympic-sized pool and state-of-the-art football and baseball fields. The park is located at 401 NW 12th street.

Gibson Park - Patrick Farrell/ Miami Herald Staff

In her Miami Herald article, "Overtown's renovated Gibson Park a symbol of hope," Alexa Lopez details the park's renovation:
The park is part of a citywide plan to bolster Overtown, the historic black neighborhood that once was the hub of Miami's black middle-class, but slipped into blight after I-95 bisected it. In May, the Miami commission approved investing $50 million in the neighborhood, building four mixed-use projects of housing and retail, and renovating the aging Town Park residences.

For Gibson Park, Tuesday's opening is Phase 1; Phase 2 calls for a $2.7 million gymnasium, now in its preliminary design stage.
The article also details the overall improvements throughout Overtown including the benefit of the once-criticized parking lots that Arthur Teele brought to the area:
(Marvin) Dunn credits Arthur Teele, the former Metro and Miami commissioner, with being one of Overtown's earliest visionaries. He pushed to add parking lots along Third Avenue, the hub of Overtown's business community.

"At the time, people thought that they were a waste of money," Dunn said. "But now that Overtown has begun development, we need those parking lots. The long-term impact has been positive for Overtown."
You can see Marvin Dunn, Jim DeFede and Oscar Corral's views (from 2007) of the Overtown parking lots in this scene from Miami Noir:

Friday, July 27, 2012

Art Teele's Suicide - 7 Years Later

Minutes after 6PM tonight, it will be seven years since Arthur E. Teele, Jr. committed suicide in the lobby of The Miami Herald. The news broke across South Florida at the start of the evening news hour. At 7:50PM, he was declared dead at Jackson Memorial Hospital's Ryder Trauma Center. In the aftermath, The Miami Herald hastily fired Jim DeFede. Frank Alvarado's Miami New Times cover story "Tales of Teele: Sleaze Stories" become one of the scapegoats for Teele's public suicide. The following day, the suicide was front page news in the Herald. Click on over to Random Pixels for the original front page article. Here are additional articles from the July 28, 2005 issue of The Miami Herald as well as articles from the following days.

July 28, 2005 (The Miami Herald)

July 28, 2005 (The Miami Herald)

July 29, 2005 (The Miami Herald)

July 29, 2005 (The Miami Herald)

July 29, 2005 (The Miami Herald)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Effort to Recall Teele

Months into Art Teele's second term on the City of Miami commission, activists in District 5, led by Irby McKnight, began collecting signatures to recall Teele. By November 2002, activists collected over 5,000 signatures - enough to begin the recall process. However, by the end of February 2003, McKnight and the rest of the outraged constituents abandoned the recall effort. They felt if the recall went to a vote, Teele had more than enough supporters, especially from the religious community, to retain his seat. McKnight and fellow citizens believe their recall effort was the catalyst for the scrutiny of Teele's District 5 commission seat.

Below are the original flyers handed out as well as signatures.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Art Teele: City of Miami District 5 Commissioner in Pictures

From left: Johnny Winton, Art Teele, Mayor Manny Diaz, Tomas Regalado & Joe Sanchez
Art Teele and wife Stephanie Teele

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Teele's County Commission Reign

Art Teele begin his career in South Florida politics upon beating his mentor Barbara Carey-Shuler for the Dade County District 3 commission seat in September 1990. Teele won by six percent.

September 5, 1990 (The Miami Herald)

In a $215,000 campaign, Teele retained his county seat in March of 1993 beating seven opponents. Teele said, "he would look out for projects to benefit Dade as a whole but intends to take special interest in revitalizing the neighborhoods in his district."

March 17, 1993 (The Miami Herald)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Art Teele: The Vietnam Years

After graduating from Florida A&M University in 1967, Art Teele served in Vietnam.  The below photographs were taken on November 13, 1969. Teele was a decorated captain. The first document lists his medals, including a Purple Heart. The second document shows his discharge in November 1978.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Seven Years

The end of this month marks seven years since Arthur E. Teele, Jr. took his life in the lobby of The Miami Herald minutes before the six o'clock evening news. Approaching July 27th, I've connected the old 1TB Buffalo TeraStation network drive and reopened the Miami Noir vault. Over the next two weeks, I'll post newspaper archives, photos, deleted scenes as we look back at the life, career and death of Art Teele.

"Metrorail beginning new loop (The Miami Herald)" - September 1, 1982 was the ceremonial start of Miami's $116.9 million Downtown People Mover project. Teele attended the ceremony and announced that the Urban Mass Transportation Administration (UMTA) would provide an additional $3.96 million for the high cost of the metrorail's Government Center Station. Thirty years later the People Mover provides free transportation for those who work in the downtown/Brickell area. It brings us to Miami Heat games and is often used as an unofficial homeless shelter.

Also notice the article, "Wanted: Scarface." Politicians including Miami Mayor Maurice Ferrer scrambled to keep production of Scarface in Miami after it was reported that Universal Studios was pulling the film from South Florida.

"Teele sees more mass transit in Florida's future (11/14/1983, The Miami Herald)" - After leaving Washington and his position as administrator for UMTA, Teele joined the Miami law firm Sparber, Shevin, Shapo & Heilbroner. He professed, "I have a vision of a transportation system in Florida that is second to none." He speaks of water taxis, people movers, bullet trains and commuter rail services throughout Florida. According to the article, "His grand vision is of a state with the most modern and most accessible public transportation system anywhere." Unfortunately, public transportation never lived up to Teele's dreams, however this past April, the City of Miami launched a trolley service. Smells better than the People Mover, which is nice.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Overtown News: "Miami commissioners to consider $50 million Overtown redevelopment plan"

Miami City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones wants to invest $50 million toward revitalizing Overtown. Her proposal, set to come before the City Commission on Thursday, would pump millions into four mixed-use projects, and calls for $15 million in renovations at the aging Town Park resi- dences.

If approved, it would be one of the largest investments into the blighted neighborhood in decades.

“I want the people of Overtown to know that something is finally happening for them,” Spence-Jones said.

The proposal — and the plan for financing it with a loan backed by Community Redevelopment Agency funds — won the support of the Southeast Overtown/Park West CRA late last month. But it caused a brief dust-up Wednesday when city officials said the Overtown loan might hinder the city’s ability to finance other projects.

“The banks may interpret the [loan] as a dilution of our creditworthiness,” city finance officers wrote in a memo.

By late afternoon, the city’s top brass had backed off that position.

“Yes, somebody could potentially say that the banks would view the CRA and the city as a whole, but that’s unlikely,” City Manager Johnny Martinez said, referring to the separate budgets of the city and the CRA . “There are enough protections written into the language that we don’t have to worry about it.”

Overtown was once the cultural hub of Miami’s black community. But the neighborhood began a steady economic decline in the 1960s, prompted in part by the construction of Interstate 95 through its heart.

Since then, redevelopment plans have come and gone.

Five years ago, the city moved forward on a proposal to create low-income housing and a Hilton hotel on a lot beside the Lyric Theater, 819 NW Second Ave. But the condo boom cooled, and the developers pulled out.

A separate plan for a $200 million mixed-use development known as Crosswinds also fell flat.

Spence-Jones hopes the investment from the CRA will ensure the latest projects come to fruition. A CRA is a special district that uses a portion of property tax revenue in blighted neighborhoods to fund redevelopment.

Spence-Jones is asking the City Commission to approve:

• $10 million for a mixed-use project called Lyric Place. The plans call for two apartment communities, each with about 200 units of affordable housing, and 5,000 square feet of retail space near the Lyric Theater.

• $3 million for a parking garage that would be owned by the Overtown CRA and managed by the Miami Parking Authority.

• $10 million for a residential project known as St. John Overtown Plaza. The development, at Northwest Third Avenue and Thirteenth Street, would have 112 rental units plus room for retail space, restaurants, offices and a community center.

• $8 million for an eight-story residential building at 1201 NW Third Ave. that would be called Island Living, and $7.5 million for a housing development near the Culmer Neighborhood Service Center.

• $15 million for rehabilitation of the Town Park townhouses and garden apartments.

Bishop James Adams, pastor of St. John’s Baptist Church, applauded the effort.

“Overtown has been overlooked for too long,” he said. “We have been waiting for years for this opportunity.’’

The move to invest in Overtown comes a week after Spence-Jones engineered a split in the CRA that could give her more influence in the running of the Overtown agency, which had long been wedded to the adjacent Omni district CRA.

The measure separated the CRA into two agencies, each with its own director.

Though legally and technically separate, the Overtown and Omni CRAs had long shared a staff, a budget and an office under a single director since their inception.

The tax revenue each district generates, however, has been collected and spent separately as required by law.

Still, Commissioner Marc Sarnoff expressed concern about the $50 million loan needed to finance the proposed Overtown investment given that the city is preparing a $45 million Omni CRA bond issue to cover its share of the Port of Miami tunnel’s cost.

“The city has a legal obligation to pay $45 million,” he said. “We have to pay Wells Fargo in June 2014. If we don’t pay or refinance, we can be in default,” Sarnoff said.

Spence-Jones said, however, said that has no bearing on the city’s ability to sell bonds based on Overtown CRA revenues, since they are separate from the Omni CRA’s.

The CRA board is composed of the five members of the City Commission. By convention established in recent years, the commissioner representing Overtown, now Spence-Jones, has chaired the board when Overtown CRA business was being discussed, and the commissioner representing Omni, now Sarnoff, gaveled meetings for Omni affairs.

The idea of splitting the CRAs into separate entities with separate budgets and directors was developed quickly and with little public input. Spence-Jones, who had publicly expressed a wish to split the agencies, asked CRA director Pieter Bockweg to develop a proposal for doing so.

Last month Bockweg presented his report, which proposed allocating 80 percent of the administrative budget to the Overtown CRA and 20 percent to the Omni agency, during a CRA meeting at the end of April.

City commissioners, with Frank Carollo absent, unanimously approved the division at the following meeting, on April 30, with virtually no discussion. The board then approved the promotion of assistant CRA director Clarence Woods to the top post at the Overtown agency, while Bockweg remains director of the Omni agency.

The split generates no savings. Salaries for directors and staff remain unchanged, and so does the total budget.

Spence-Jones said the split took place because the two CRAs have different missions — and because the previous structure left some staff members confused.

“This should take away some of that confusion,” she said.

By Kathleen McGrory and Adres Viglucci

Miami Herald Staff Writer Charles Rabin contributed to this report.

Read more here:

Miami commissioners to consider $50 million Overtown redevelopment plan - Biscayne Corridor -