Private Centner Academy gets to run Miami public park for $10 million

Commissioner ADLP then travels with school attorney

While all eyes were on the Melreese Golf Course and the insider Miami Freedom Park deal last month, the city of Miami basically gave another city-owned property away to the private school that got national headlines last year for its backwards COVID policies.

City commissioners approved a license agreement with Centner Academy that allows the school to build a state-of-the-art recreational (read: sports) facility on Biscayne Park, 150 NE 19th St., and provide programming. They are to spend no less than $10 million on the facility and then share 50% of revenue from programming and concession sales with the city, using the other 50% for maintenance and security for the first 10 years.

In exchange, they get to use 33% exclusively all the time and another 33% exclusively for some hours during the day.

The school also got commissioners to upzone the properties they own around their preschool campus at 4136 North Miami Avenue.

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Both items passed unanimously last month — and then Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla, who sponsored the items, went to Boston just a few weeks later with the attorney (read: lobbyist) for the school, Bill Riley.

“Boston with good friends,” posted Amy Riley, his wife, on Facebook with a photo that was removed from her page after Ladra asked ADLP about his trip. Thank goodness for screenshots.

Maybe they were celebrating the deal. He sure looks like he’s feeling no pain.

“Stop bothering me,” he texted back when I asked what was in Boston.

Bill Riley also chairs the campaign committee for judicial candidate Renier Diaz de la Portilla, the commissioner’s baby brother (more on that later). That means he will be raising funds for the Fredo DLP.

And on Monday, the city of Miami named a stretch of Northwest 16th Terrace after his father, William Riley, who is the longtime business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (read: he pulls votes). Ladra saw that social media photos showed all the commissioners were there, except ADLP.

Riley was a land use attorney at Greenspoon Marder, representing the academy there, at the same time as Mayor Francis Suarez joined the firm. Neighbors who opposed the school’s original application said there was a conflict of interest and, eventually, Riley split from the firm to go on his own. He still represents the school.

The private school, where tuition can peak at almost $30,000, is across the street from the 3.7 acre park and will use the facility for its own physical education classes and sports activities. In fact, one third of the “public park” will be off limits to residents or anyone outside the school community all the time. One third of the park will be open to the public at all times. But only two thirds of the park will be available to the general population after school hours. Three thirds of the park will not be available to the public.

So it’s now a sometimes public park in some parts.

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The concept came to Diaz de la Portilla, he said, during his first short stint as chairman of the Omni Community Redevelopment Agency when his lackey was caught in a ghost job there. He pushed for the approval and told Commissioner Manolo Reyes he did not want an amendment having the giveaway adhere to the no net public space loss rule.

“This is something that’s a real park,” Diaz de la Portilla said. “They’re investing a minimum of $10 million into a park that’s been desolate and empty for decades.”

This is the same school that made national headlines and was investigated by the Florida Department of Education after the school’s millionaire director Leila Centner told teachers that if they got the COVID-19 vaccine, they would lose their jobs. Then the school told parents that students who got vaccinated would have to stay home and “quarantine” for 30 days. They cited false and disproved claims of “shedding” or transmission from the vaccine. They became a national laughing stock.

Some parents pulled their children out of the school.

Might they make rules like that for the park usage? Would they be allowed to?

The school’s owners also got zoning and land use change from duplex residential to low-density restricted commercial at several properties adjacent to their preschool campus at 4136 North Miami Avenue.

This is likely not their last ask. David and Leila Centner own several properties in the Buena Vista and Edgewater neighborhoods.