Miami Mayor Suarez Paid $170K By Developer Who Wanted Help With Project Approval, Documents Show
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez was paid at least $170K over the last two years by Location Ventures, a developer with active projects in the city, and helped secure permits for a stalled project in Coconut Grove, according to documents obtained by the Miami Herald.
Internal documents from Location Ventures show that company CEO Rishi Kapoor asked the mayor to help push along the permitting process for the developer’s Urbin Coconut Grove project, the Herald reported. The documents raise new ethics concerns for Suarez, who is considering a run for president, less than a week after a it was revealed that he was receiving $10K a month from the developer as a paid consultant.
Documents from Coral Gables-based Location Ventures published by the Miami Herald show the mayor was approached by Kapoor on at least two occasions to help the developer resolve issues surrounding the approval of Urbin Coconut Grove, which broke ground earlier this year.
In a statement to Bisnow, Suarez's office denied that the second-term mayor used his position to help Location Ventures' projects advance.
"The newspaper's allegations about the Mayor using his influence within the City to help Mr. Kapoor's company are false,” the communications director for the mayor, Soledad Cedro, said in a statement to Bisnow.
The Location Ventures project involved redeveloping five properties, located at 3170 Commodore Plaza in Coconut Grove, into a mixed-use development with co-living spaces and traditional apartments. It was proposed in December 2021 but stalled as it went through the approval process.
The initial proposal was for a development that extended to the property line in violation of zoning rules, violated fire codes by including gas grills on the roof, was too tall and had balconies that encroached on neighboring properties, according to the Herald report.
The internal documents detailing Suarez’s involvement in the approval process were distributed to frustrated investors last year as delays mounted at the project, according to the Herald. One entry in the notes dated July 19, the same day Location Ventures submitted a permit application for the development, says that Kapoor would “push Francis Suarez to help” secure approval for the project.
The documents imply that Kapoor made that request to Suarez. A note dated July 26 says “Mayor Suarez to assist in pushing this along” and an Aug. 2 entry indicates that Kapoor "met with Mayor and City manager to discuss permitting progress."
Suarez’s office denied that the meeting took place, saying that the Herald “falsely claims that there was a meeting between the Mayor, the City manager and Mr. Kapoor, despite records being provided to the contrary,” Cedro said in the statement.
Kapoor said in a statement to Bisnow that the Herald report was inaccurate, adding that Location Ventures' consulting agreement with the mayor says Suarez "may recuse himself or resign from his advisory role should there be any conflicts of interest."
"As an advisor, Mr. Suarez has consulted for URBIN by providing feedback on programming and the greater mission of the brand to bring new housing opportunities to urban markets, not just in Miami-Dade County, but beyond," Kapoor said.
An Aug. 4 meeting of the review committee failed to resolve the zoning problems, according to the Herald report, and an entry in the Location Ventures notes says that Kapoor “reached out to the Mayor’s office to help with resolving the 5 foot setback issues. Zoning director is willing to meet again to discuss a middle ground.”
On Dec. 1, the zoning director determined that setback requirement would not apply to the Urbin Coconut Grove project, allowing it to move forward without a costly redesign. Location Ventures did make some adjustments to the property, including the removal of some balconies, and the building permit was approved on Jan. 6, 2023.
About a month later, Suarez appeared at the groundbreaking for the development.
Caroline Klancke, executive director of the nonpartisan Florida Ethics Institute, told the Herald that Suarez’s work with Location Ventures could violate Florida ethics laws that prohibit elected officials from being employed by a company doing business with their city. She added that the internal records from Location Ventures could provide enough evidence to open a criminal investigation.
The role of city mayor in Miami is a part-time position — one that pays $97K a year along with an expense stipend of around $33K — and the mayor is allowed to have other jobs while in office. Suarez worked as a real estate attorney for Haley Sinagra, Paul and Toland P.A.; Alvarez Barbara; GrayRobinson; and Carlton Fields before he was elected mayor in 2017, then moved to Greenspoon Marder in 2018.
Suarez’s relationship with Location Ventures was first reported by the Miami Herald on May 19 after Greg Brooks, the company’s former chief financial officer, filed a lawsuit that alleged several “financial improprieties” at Location Ventures, including the allegation that it was paying Suarez $10K a month for “unknown services.”
Both Suarez and Kapoor told the Herald that the mayor’s work for Location Ventures was unrelated to City Hall business. A spokesperson for Suarez told the Herald he was paid to introduce Kapoor to potential investors, and Kapoor said the mayor gave advice about the mix of stores and restaurants at the company’s projects.
The mayor's office acknowledged Suarez was a paid consultant at the company but said the mayor was entitled to outside employment and followed all legal requirements in his role with Location Ventures.
"Mayor Francis Suarez, like 31 other mayors from Miami Dade's 34 municipalities, has the legal right to have outside employment," Cedro told Bisnow in a statement. "The City Attorney was consulted and issued an opinion indicating that city elected officials are allowed to have outside employment, and the Mayor has abided by all legal requirements in accordance with this policy."