RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. — Michael Drew is walking through an empty warehouse at 1800 Martin Luther King Boulevard in Riviera Beach.
“This should be full,” Drew said. “It would be full. If it weren’t for one person.”
Drew has been a business owner in Riviera Beach for 22 years. In 2015, he decided it was time to expand Cold Storage and build a second warehouse.
“This building would have been ready for two years and I’m no closer to opening today than I was two years ago,” Drew said.
In 2015, Drew was excited to open the business. He said it would have created around 30 jobs and tax revenue for the city.
"The location is good and for a number of years it seemed the city welcomed companies like my own, who would create jobs, and welcomed having you here,” Drew said. “They wanted you here."
Now, he doesn’t feel that way anymore.
The beginning of the project was going smoothly. Drew was working with the previous building official.
He said he had all permits and was close to opening the business.
But then, in early 2017, Ladi March became the building official.
Drew said the trouble began when the city suddenly told him to re-submit all permits.
"I asked why? (The answer was) Because the city of Riviera Beach can't find any of your plans. Everything having to do with your project has vanished,” Drew said.
He said Ladi March told him in a meeting in March he had to increase the value of this building from the $2 million he had presented to $4 million.
Drew said March based the number of another business down the street, but Drew said you can’t compare the two buildings.
“They’ve built a Mercedes, I built a Ford,” Drew said.
He eventually agreed to the increase in value, which would raise his fees, all so he could finally open.
Shortly after, he said he received an email from the city, informing him he now had 24 hours to pay the $30,000 in inspection fees and more than $220,000 in penalties.
"The hardship that one person has caused to me personally, to my business, to the people that work with me, is not measurable,” Drew said.
The former city manager, Jonathan Evans, agreed to meet with Drew in September of 2017.
“He told me he would help me open my business by Monday,” Drew said.
But on Monday Evans was already fired by the city, after three council members suddenly and without explanation voted to fire him.
“I was completely shocked,” Drew said.
Drew has filed a lawsuit against the city and Ladi March. He said he feels like he’s been treated unfairly.
“You’re not talking about somebody who moved in here from New York,” Drew said. “You’re talking about someone who has had a business in Riviera Beach for 22 years, who’s paid taxes for 22 years”
Councilwoman KaShamba Miller-Anderson said she is worried what message the city is sending to businesses owners.
“We have to do a better job with that,” Miller-Anderson said. “Businesses talk to one another and if their experiences are not great, they will share that with others and that could hurt us in the long run.”
After 22 years in Riviera Beach, Drew said he would never open a business in the city again.
“No, never,” Drew said. “Never in a million years. I wouldn't build anything here at all. I would recommend to anyone not to build in Riviera Beach.”
We reached out to Ladi March’s office multiple times for a comment. Her staff said she was unable to provide a comment at the time.