NORTH BEACH SENIOR CENTER IS BACK ON TRACK.
After years of languishing, the opening of the senior center at 72nd Street and Collins Avenue, Bandshell Park, is expected to open by the end of September, 2014.
“We were able to resolve disputes with the contractor regarding a section of the Center that had to be [repaired] in order for occupancy,” said Victor Diaz, a founder and current board member of UNIDAD, and a former Miami Beach city commissioner.
The remedial work will be done at the expense of the contractor and includes making level an unlevel terrazzo floor section – to resolve a potential tripping issue; as well as addressing roofing issues and peeling paint.
“This is being done without costing the taxpayers a cent,” Diaz said. “We’re trying to push the schedule as aggressively as possible. The contract calls for repairs to be completed by Sept. 29, although there is a 30-day grace period.”
Diaz said he has visited the site and is pleased that progress is underway.
The news pleases many in the community who have long been waiting for the Center, designed by Miami Architect Renee Gonzalez, to open – and for UNIDAD to move its numerous services to the new building.
“I haven’t even read anything about it in a long time,” said Maelin Murrera, a nearby resident. “Actually I saw the other work being done [at Bandshell Park] and I thought maybe the City had decided to do that instead of a senior center. I’m glad it is still in the plans!”
One source with close knowledge of the situation said that City of Miami Beach officials haven’t wanted to talk about the situation because of an “unpleasant” lawsuit revolving around the necessary repairs, which extended the process by two-and-a-half years.
That same source credited City Manager Jimmy Morales and Mayor Philip Levine for intervening and getting the process moving again.
“This was a true team effort,” Mayor Philip Levine told SunPost. “My office, along with the city manager’s office worked with the staff from UNIDAD and the general contractor to assess the situation and look for ways to remedy outstanding issues with the senior center.”
The senior center is a partnership between the City of Miami Beach and UNIDAD.
“It’s not a joint venture,” Diaz explained. “The building belongs to the City of Miami Beach and always will. We received a contract to manage the building and operate as a senior center.”
UNIDAD is a respected organization that offers a host of services for the elderly, so the partnership made sense for both the City and the organization.
UNIDAD was also able to obtain funding from numerous sources, including grants to heavily contribute to the approximate $5 million project. By contrast, North Beach’s youth center was funded entirely from the City, Diaz said.
“The senior center received funding from the state and Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami Beach contributed through CDBGs (Community Development Block Grants),” Diaz said.
“The City then decided to re-do Bandshell Park and we were asked to build a couple sections of that because we can get it done faster than the government,” he said.
But while that work was completed, the lawsuit over needed repairs and who would pay for them delayed the project from its initial completion date in 2012.
A spokesperson for the City of Miami Beach referred questions about the senior center to UNIDAD.
Diaz said that for more than a decade, UNIDAD has offered numerous services for seniors.
“The services we offer will be moved to the senior center,” he said. “When the center opens, we hope to expand programming to offer recreational activities and a senior meals program. There is currently no meal site open to the public in the area.”
Diaz explained how demographics in the city have made UNIDAD’s offerings critical in North Beach.
“The senior population used to be concentrated in the south side of the city,” he said. “As the demographic shifted, a lot of elderly people drifted northward, so this has been needed a long time.”
For example, Diaz pointed out that there is no senior meals program north of Miami Beach’s Lincoln Road.
Litigation would have been the worst-case scenario and could have extended the development even further. Diaz, like others, credits the current administration as well as Scott Robins, the famed developer/preservationist, for helping resolve the problem.
Among the services offered by UNIDAD to the elderly is a jobs program through the federal government.
“We place elderly, unemployed seniors in the private sector, in government or social services and subsidize their salaries for the first year,” Diaz said. “In the past 10 years, we have placed more than 500 people”
Other programs include an elderly nutrition and wellness program, among others, with the hope that the new center and location will permit expansion of opportunities.
There is certainly need for existing and expanded services, according to North Beach residents.
“The placement of services for the elderly reflects the way the city used to be,” said Murrera. “Every day I see plenty of elderly people in North Beach and a lot of them are poor or borderline poor and just hanging on these days. Up until now, there just hasn’t been a lot of services in this area for these folks.”
“There is the type of need on North Beach that used to exist on South Beach before the City decided to drive out the elderly in favor of tourist and high-end residential development,” Barrios said. “It’s time that the City recognized how things have changed up here.”
Several residents also expressed their belief that UNIDAD will be a welcome addition to the neighborhood and will be a reliable service provider.
Diaz said he has personally witnessed rapid progress at the senior center site.
“Just in the past 10 days, there has been a lot of work done,” he said.
Levine is happy to see progress being made, as well.
I am very hopeful and I look forward to the opening of a world-class senior center in North Beach in the very near future,” Levine said.