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.  
Continue reading

Read more here:

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 -

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"Community Icon Plagued by Burglars"

Josh and I had the priveledge of meeting Georgia Ayers while filming Miami Noir. We tried to interview her twice at 151 NW 60th St. and both times blew the power in the entire building with our equipment. It's a huge building with great potential to be a wonderful facility. Unfortunately, we were never able to connect for a full interview. 

In the time spent with her, one could sense her passion and dedication. When discussing Arthur Teele, her tone changed. She spoke of him as son. We gathered that there was great mutual respect between the two; he did call her before his death.


Published in today's Miami Herald by Frances Robles

One of the oldest Baptist churches in the city of Miami has seen better days, such as the 1980s, when a killer religious sect ran a school there and slapped a fresh coat of paint on it.

For almost 15 years, longtime civic activist Georgia J. Ayers has used the Model City building just east of Interstate 95 for an at-risk youth program, spending millions of dollars in grants to renovate it with the quixotic ambition of opening a daycare center. Several funding grants and many years later, she’s got a boarded-up dilapidated place where plants grow out of the walls and burglars bust impact-resistant windows.

Thieves have looted it 10 times since July.

Miami cops are at a loss, Ayers vows not to give up, and the daycare that never opened is a hopeless entanglement of exposed pipes, smashed windows and half-installed sprinklers and air conditioners.
The Alternative Program Inc.’s plight underscores the challenges of urban development projects, where pipe dreams often crash against inner-city realities. The break-ins are the latest in a long string of misfortunes to befall the troubled program. The burglaries are just part of the myriad challenges — mostly financial — that have prevented one woman’s vision from ever becoming reality.

Ayers, one of the city’s most respected icons, an 83-year-old spitfire showing signs of wear, ultimately proved unable to surmount an onslaught of bureaucratic obstacles. The 48,000-square-foot facility at 151 NW 60th St. has a decades-long trail of code violations, burglary reports and government grants. Eventually the money ran out, employees were cut to part-time, their health insurance was eliminated, and hopes of establishing a community center were dashed.

“Nothing good comes easy,” Ayers said, indicating where burglars stole the phone off her desk.
They also swiped soda out of her refrigerator and broke 10 windows that cost $900 each. Burglars hit her office two days in a row last month, even with a police watch order in place and a decoy patrol car parked out front. Thousands of confidential files were stolen, as were the snacks and paper towels.
Determined to put an end to the break-ins, the elderly Ayers says she’s going to start sleeping there overnight. The woman who has dedicated her life to keeping criminals out of jail vows to confront the felons herself, and perhaps surprise them with a few rounds from an AK-47.

“I am going to shoot the s--- out of them,” she said. “I put barbed wire up, they take the barbed wire and tried to take the fence. I put bars on the windows; they break the bars.”

She needs a burglar alarm and round-the-clock surveillance, but has no way to pay for it. “I used to have fundraisers all the time, but now everyone is catching hell just like me,” she said. “What’s the point of going to the river if there is no water?”

If it’s not the intruders harassing Ayers, it’s the former devotees of the Temple of Love who post fliers saying they want their building back. “There were many of us helping to fix our poor areas. Then the troops came to take from the poor,” reads a poster signed by former Yahweh sect follower Nechamaw Sarai.

Cult leader Yahweh ben Yahweh bought the First Baptist Church property in 1985 for just shy of a million dollars. Pictures show it sported a fresh coat of white paint, even while the city slammed the Yahweh sect for a litany of code violations and operating a school without a permit.
Suspected in more than a dozen murders, Yahweh was convicted of conspiracy in federal court. He died in 2007 after serving 11 years in prison.

“The building was a wreck even then,” said former owner Frank Alter, who loaned Yahweh capital for the building, only to acquire it back when the sect fell behind on the mortgage. “I would never buy it, even with your money.”

In 1998, Alter sold it to Ayers’ Alternative Program, known as TAP, for $693,000.
“She was a very aggressive woman doing a thankless task in that community,” Alter recalls. “I never really liked her much; she didn’t understand why I didn’t just hand her the property for nothing, given what she planned to do with it. She was quite a fighter.”

Ayers founded TAP 30 years ago as a non-profit agency that offered a substitute to incarceration for non-violent offenders. It offered after-school programs for at-risk kids, and once had a school named after Janet Reno, the former state attorney and U.S. attorney general.

A politically connected activist in the black community, Ayers takes credit for community policing in the city. For years, she was the one people called to turn in fugitives and quell city riots. In 2005, she was the last person former Miami commissioner Arthur Teele called before committing suicide in the Miami Herald lobby.

She’s known for walking into court rooms and interrupting judges. When one circuit judge handling her grandson’s drug bust put a stop to her courtroom tirade, she showed up the next day with protest placards, accusing the judge of being a Nazi. She answers questions with anecdotes about when her grandson was murdered for stepping on someone’s foot, or the times back in the 1960s that she called police on her own son.

In 1999, then-congresswoman Carrie Meek got Ayers a $2.2 million federal grant to turn the run-down former church into a daycare center and community auditorium. It would have playgrounds and parking lots and include adjoining parcels of land.

County records show Ayers spent half a million to buy the building and $1 million on architects and contractors. Another half million went to salaries.

The parcels were never purchased, the parking lots didn’t work out and the work needed to certify the daycare center was never completed. The county estimates that she needs another $1 million to finish the job.

“It wasn’t enough [money]! I’ll tell anyone from the city or county that,” Ayers screamed, waving her brown walking stick. “I did this! I am it! I-T it! Put an S-H in front of that, and you get when I don’t take and I don’t give!”

According to county records, construction came to a halt in 2004, when Miami city inspectors disagreed with each other about the quality of the air conditioning work, and so the AC was torn out.
Some grant money was lost to lawsuits.

The county returned the grant’s last $83,000 to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, with a simple note saying the agency’s work was “70 percent done” and the organization would seek other funding sources.

“They fixed the roof and tried to get the sprinklers installed, but it wasn’t finished,” said TAP fiscal officer Charles Briggs. “The elevator was started and not completed and the AC unit is on the roof, but not completed.”

Briggs said they agency has a severe “cash flow problem,” because the county grants it now gets to run programs are paid late.

The city of Miami paid for the roof and the new pricey windows, ultimately giving $220,000 to also cover cost overruns to renovate the daycare center that never got built. At a 2007 Miami city commission meeting, commissioner Marc Sarnoff questioned some of the funding, and asked Ayers how much she earned. She told him: $96,000 a year.

“I think there should be an audit to see what deliverables were required,” Sarnoff said last week. “We have to be somewhat protective with taxpayer dollars.”

Meanwhile, the non-profit ran $107,000 in county code enforcement fines for another property it owns.

“I thought that by now she would have a nice stable building,” Meek, the former congresswoman, said. “I tried to help her. She did all she could. She hasn’t gotten a lot of institutional support. She is a rare resource in this county and needs more support.”

Meek said Ayers should have lured more big-name philanthropists to her board of directors in an effort to acquire matching grants.

TAP came under fire earlier this year, when Ayers’ grandson, a TAP counselor, was arrested by Miami police for allegedly taking bribes from offenders who wanted to skip out on community service hours. The State Attorney’s office refused to press charges, saying Ayers’ contract with the county was so vague it was not clear what law her grandson broke, in part because it was unclear what services the organization is supposed to provide.

Former Miami Police chief Miguel Exposito accused State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle of dropping the case out of fear of taking on the politically connected Ayers.

“You think if I wasn’t a righteous person, the county would have given me this?” Ayers said, pointing out the I.D. card she wears around her neck daily, which gives her unfettered access to the jails.
On a day Ayers showed up without an appointment at the Miami Police north district station, Commander Manuel Morales joked that there are only three people for whom he drops what he’s doing: “my wife, the police chief and Ms. Ayers.”

Morales said he ordered a mandatory hourly check on her building, but says it remains the single highest crime location in his district — excluding 200-unit apartment buildings with multiple service calls.

“We’ve ID’d offenders, gotten blood from crime scenes, made arrests, gotten evidence, but in the meantime, she’s still getting hit,” he said. “It’s ironic, because she tries to give individuals who want the help, help.”
Photo courtesy of Miami Herald, Charles Trainor, Jr.