Through a decade of planning, the City of Homestead finds itself with a sound economic outlook while progressing to a successful downtown renaissance.
Over the last few years, Homestead has realized some significant development and very visible changes with more being planned. As the local election season approaches, the News Leader asked Mayor Stephen Shelley to sit down and update the residents of Homestead how these many projects are
progressing. We looked at where Homestead stands today, both financially and in the quality of life for both families and business owners.
Beginning a few years back, Homestead leadership weathered the downturn in the economy without raising taxes, laying off city employees or cutting city services. Managing the loss of more than half the overall value of their property assessments, dropping from $4 billion in 2008 to $1.8 billion in 2012, the mayor and council made the decision to limit spending and instead focus on large building projects that would encourage private sector economic development. The health of the Homestead economy can be seen by the recovery of the property assessments to a 2018 level of $2.9 billion.
Mayor Shelley, who has served on council since 2013 and as vice-mayor before assuming the mayor’s seat when Mayor Jeff Porter decided to step down to run for the Florida Agriculture Commissioner, noted that the downtown district along Krome Avenue, “never could get over the hump. We (mayor and council) decided then to focus on downtown revitalization. Our main impetus is the realization that all major successful cities have a strong downtown, with public buildings like a city hall and police station.
Studies show the best results come from this public/private partnership. You can see that with our refurbishment of the Seminole Theatre, which has now spurred more retail development.”
Over the last few years, starting with the Porter administration and moving into Shelley’s administration, the city has embarked on five major building projects. The new City Hall has revitalized the east side of Krome Ave, along the perimeter of Miami-Dade College Homestead.
The construction of a new Police Station and the renovation of the Seminole Theater, both bordering Losner Park on the Krome Avenue business district, were funded by bonds approved in referendums by voters.
In total, the cost averages approximately $72.00 per year to the taxpayer. The revitalization has brought in new businesses to Krome Avenue from high end to low end, including Four Eight Restaurant and Lounge, new offices for the South Dade Chamber of Commerce and a Popeye’s franchise.
The new Homestead Station Entertainment Center is close to completion and is scheduled to open at the end of October. It will include a movie theater complex, a bowling alley, and retail outlets. An attached parking garage will offer convenient parking for not only the Entertainment Center but will add to the convenience of shopping multiple retail shops and Losner Park, which itself is scheduled for a large-scale renovation in 2020, with an entertainment stage and fountains. The aim is to encourage business not only from local Homestead and Florida City residents, but also from the residents of the Upper Keys, military personnel serving at HARB, and the tourists exiting from the turnpike – all will have a safe, easy, centrally located place to park. The northern neighbors can utilize the high-speed bus line bordering Homestead Station allowing ease of use to spend time (and money) along Homestead’s downtown business district.
The total cost for the garage project is $42 million, which includes land costs. It is being funded over a period of time from the yearly allocation of the transportation funds (PTP) from the half penny sales tax and the local option gas tax funds (LOGT). The movie theatre project is being funded by Axiom/13, a private developer.
The Cybrary, a state-of-the-art new library, has already broken ground at Mowry and NW 1st Ave. It will offer access for the public to computers and the internet, virtual reality, a children’s area with a ‘book mountain’ and theater, a teen lounge and a new collection of 31,000 physical items including books, magazines, newspapers, along with the digitized collection of the News Leader newspapers going back to the founding of Homestead 106 years ago. It will be a four-story building, with the first two floors developed for the library, and the potential for public or private use of the upper floors in the future.
Funding sources for the $18 million build include: Federal Grants - $4.83 million, Comm-unity Redevelopment Agency - $2.52 million, Art in Public Places - $1.5 million, Library Systems & Services - $1 million, State Grant - $500,000, Bowling Alley Property - $2.3 million, Downtown Project Surplus - $1.9 million, Fund Balance - $3.45 million. There are additional grant applications out, including new market tax credits, that may still be awarded.
Perhaps the best examples of how well the Homestead Mayors and Council have managed to fight through the recession of 2008 is the health of its current bond ratings.
As noted on Feb. 8, 2019 by Moody’s Investor Service: Homestead has a very healthy financial position, which is strong with respect to the assigned rating of Aa3. The city’s cash balance as a percent of operating revenues (54.7%) is notably above the US median despite significant contraction between 2013 and 2017.
S&P Global Ratings released a statement on Dec. 20, 2018: S&P Global Ratings raised its underlying rating (SPUR) to ‘A+’ from ‘A’ on Homestead, Fla’s 2017 taxable transportation system revenue bonds, reflecting the city’s covenant to budget and appropriate legally available non-ad valorem revenue. At the same time, S&P Global Ratings revised the outlook to stable from negative and affirmed its ‘A+’ long-term rating on the city’s general obligation (GO) and non-ad valorem bonds.
Even with the reduction in property values and with the building of multiple projects, Homestead maintains a total spendable fund balance of $16 million, according to their 2018 financial report.
Mayor Shelley reported to the News Leader that he will be returning to his council seat after the October election, where he looks forward to serving two more years, until term limits will legally end his service.
“I’d like to finish what we’ve started. And I can do that as a Councilperson. I have a high standard for myself and I always want to give my absolute best with each position I hold. I recently took over leadership as CEO of Farm Share, which is a job that is personally fulfilling, but requires me to travel throughout the state. And my wife Jenn and I have an active five-year old son who I want to spend as much time with as possible. I think it’s important to continue the economic redevelopment projects started under Mayor Porter's leadership and leave a strong foundation for the future of Homestead. It is a natural fit for Jeff Porter to return as Mayor of Homestead. He shares council’s vision for the downtown revitalization of Homestead. He was sitting in that seat at the beginning and he will continue the ball rolling with these projects. It would be great to see Mayor Porter take it to the finish line and wrap things up.”