(Story by Edvina Paul/Video by Edvina Paul and Gabriela Enamorado)
A growing number of businesses in Little Haiti are struggling to keep their lights on as a developer pursues its plan to build an 18-acre commercial and residential project.
The Magic City Innovation District project, which was approved by Miami commissioners last year, will be built in phases over the next 15 years.
The developer said it wants to help revitalize the neighborhood by building a community with technological and environmental features that will help boost businesses and create a walkable, campus-like neighborhood.
But Little Haiti business owners say Magic City Innovation District’s development plan is going to negatively affect the neighborhood.
Ores Nelson, owner of Tripod Collision and Repair Shop, said Magic City wants to buy the building he works in.
“The Magic City Innovation District representatives have contacted the landlord about the property, and they keep offering him big money,” Nelson said. “If they keep offering, the owner might let it go one day.”
Nelson said Miami City Hall is helping developers by citing businesses for code violations and imposing fines.
“They wanted everybody businesses painted. So, we did and many of us still received citations for $1,200,” said Nelson. “Every two weeks, it’s fine after fine.”
Earlier this year, Nelson said, 24 cars were towed from outside his business at a cost of $200 each.
“They figured you’re going to spend a lot of money on the cars, a week later they do it again,” said Nelson. “They are doing things to get you to run away or run out of money to continue.”
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez disputes that.
“Businesses in Little Haiti aren’t being excessively fined,” he said in an interview on the City Hall parking lot. “We want businesses in Little Haiti to continue to thrive. There are no plans to remove them from the area.”
Merlie Pubien, owner of Merlie’s Braids and More, and Rabelais Etienne, owner of Chez Le Bebe Haitian restaurant, shared similar concerns.
“They should have gave businesses a five-year notice, so we can prepare for what is happening, but they didn’t do anything,” said Pubien. “They just started coming in and asking to buy people places.”
Magic City Innovation District said on its website that they intend to keep the culture alive through the authentic Haitian restaurants, but many restaurants owners in Little Haiti are at their wits’ end with the fines and constant offers.
“The way they are moving, I don’t think they are going to leave any Haitian restaurants,” said Etienne.
“You don’t have to go to Haiti to take part in the Haitian culture and I’m pretty sure when these people take over, they are going to remove everything,” said Nelson. “It’s sad, but what can we do?”
Magic City Innovation District did not respond to numerous requests for comment, but back in 2018, Neil Fairman, chairman of Plaza Equity Partners, one of the three Miami-based firms behind the project, told the Miami Herald that the project only takes up 1.5% of Little Haiti, and added: “It can be the engine that pulls the Little Haiti train. The social fabric of the community is already strong. The idea is not to rip the culture away from this area. The idea is to enhance the culture.”