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Miami agency moves to give Liberty City restaurateur $317K grant after critical board members removed

@NewsbySmiley

All but a fraction of a $350,000 public contribution by the operator of Bayside Marketplace to help spur "economic development" in Liberty City will likely go toward renovating a single Seventh Avenue restaurant that promises to use the money to create a culinary and tourist destination -- and two permanent jobs.

Late Tuesday, board members of Miami's quasi-independent Liberty City Community Revitalization Trust reversed course from the summer and moved to award $317,000 to Shantels lounge, a 2,500-square-foot eatery just north of 54th Street. The restaurant and jazz cafe is owned by Edward Colebrook, and serves up Caribbean cuisine and soul food. It is the occasional spot for campaign parties.

Trust leaders and city representatives who attended the Tuesday meeting said they believe Colebrook will create the type of sit-down restaurant that hasn't existed in Liberty City since Jumbo's closed shop. A grant application shows an estimated $222,000 will pay for renovations, $35,000 will pay for furniture and upgraded tables and chairs, and $40,000 will go toward the creation of a cook and server's position.

"There was a time that black restaurants and entertainment centers were prevalent in the community. Unfortunately those establishments are figures of the past," said Tyrone Coverson, a city of Miami liaison. "We hope to, with the Trust, start a new era to allow Shantel to be a beacon of future restaurants and entertainment centers."

The money to be given to Colebrook comes from General Growth Properties, which agreed in the summer of 2014 to pay a lump sum to the city of Miami's Liberty City Trust as part of a deal to allow for the expansion of Bayside Marketplace and the extension of the tourist attraction's public lease. GGP LP Bayside Marketplace LLC cut the city a $350,000 check in September 2014. And in May, the Liberty City Trust solicited bids for a small business grant program, drawing interest from 14 bidders.

When the Trust's leadership recommended that only Colebrook receive money, they experienced a backlash from the losing bidders. Even the volunteer board had heartburn, choosing not to give anyone money. When the board reconvened in September, minutes show board members chose to meet again to redraft the competitive solicitation, in part to eliminate a slant toward businesses that could offer potential as a tourist destination.

The Trust did not meet between September and January.

But instead of starting the process over, Trust President Elaine Black came back Tuesday with the same recommendation in favor of Shantels. In the meantime, Miami Commissioner Keon Hardemon, who negotiated the grant and appoints all but one member of the Trust's board, removed the two members who most vociferously bucked Black's recommendation. He replaced them with new members who voted in favor of Shantels.

Black said Tuesday that she did review the bidding process, as directed by the previous board, but she said her belief that the money was best given to Colebrook remained firm.

"There was a review of the process, and I made a decision to go along with my recommendation," she said after Tuesday's meeting.

Colebrook attended the meeting and spoke briefly, saying his business was being criticized not over the merits of his plans, but because of its location in District 5, which includes Liberty City and Overtown.

"Unfortunately, every time someone or the city wants to put money into District 5, they come out of the woodwork," he said.

Miami Commissioners must ultimately approve any grant awarded Colebrook by the Liberty City Trust. Black said the details of the grant agreement will become firmer during negotiations.

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