UPDATE 8 a.m., May 14: The City of Homestead reports voters overwhelmingly approved bond referendums Tuesday.
On paper, Homestead's special election this Tuesday is for a bond referendum: the city is asking voters to approve $26 million in bonds to fund renovations of the Seminole theater and to build a new police headquarters. But in reality, the election is about more than money.
Homestead’s last mayor, Steve Bateman, was one of three South Florida mayors arrested last August on corruption charges.
That arrest was not related to the theater. But millions of dollars have been spent on the Seminole, which remains closed and vacant. Much of that money came through the city’s community redevelopment agency, which was criticized in a 2010 county audit for making questionable deals with former elected officials.
Current Homestead Mayor Jeff Porter says this history is part of the reason the city is holding the special election: "We could have just started building and just increased taxes, but the choice was not to do that. The choice was to include the voter in the process."
Mayor Porter hopes the referendum will provide enough political support to ensure that the theater and police headquarters are completed, even if Homestead's leadership changes.
Located in Homestead’s historic downtown district, the Seminole theater has been closed since 1979, and it has been under renovation for more than 15 years. Porter says the delay is partly because the theater hasn’t always been a priority with each administration.
“Over time political ideas changed," explains Porter, "and it’s on the table, off the table, on the table, off the table. If we can get the money appropriated with the support of the taxpayer, I believe that gives a political structure the ability to stay behind the project.”
Homestead's mayoral term is two years.
The city is asking for $5 million for the theater, $18 million for the new police headquarters, and $3 million for a temporary police office while the new one is under construction.