ENGINEERING GROWTH: Tri-rail use increased dramatically in 2002 to 2.6 million rides along with South Florida population growth and higher levels of cross-county commuting, the Tri-County Commuter Rail Authority reports. This year's goal is 2.7 million. Tri-rail's West Palm Beach station saw the greatest jump in riders, 45% over 2001, followed by the Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport station's 32% and the Miami International Airport station 11%. The authority's biggest concern in 2003, a spokesperson said, is maintaining riders during heavy construction periods for tracking upgrades in Palm Beach County.
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BANK ROLLS: Coral Gables-based Commercebank has announced amassing more than $3 billion in assets, making it one of the largest privately held banks in Florida. Having more than tripled its size in the past four years, the affiliate of Venezuela's Mercantil Servicios Financieros specializes in international private and commercial banking through eight offices in South Florida, one in Manhattan and a loan production office in Houston. The bank attributes rapid growth to its private banking business and office expansions.
ROLLING ON: Commercebank should see assets increase 20% in 2003, mostly in domestic commercial loans driven by strong growth in both corporate and private bank deposits, said Guillermo Villar, Commercebank chairman. He said the bank intends to rapidly expand its domestic lending business and open three new offices in South Florida. Possible locations include the Tamiami and Airport West areas of Miami-Dade County as well as Boca Raton in Palm Beach County.
HAVE IT YOUR WAY: New Burger King CEO Bradley Blum is moving quickly to form his own team, on Tuesday naming Robert T. Nilsen, 43, president. Mr. Nilsen, former chief operating officer of Taco Bell Corp., will have most senior execs reporting to him - but Paul Novak, chief development officer, North America, will report directly to Mr. Blum.
NEW ALLIANCE: Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell Realtors has joined the national Relo Network of independent residential real estate and relocation services. EWM, a nearly 40-year-old Coral Gables-based real estate firm, dropped its 12-year membership with the Cedant Mobility Network in order to start tapping referrals from Relo's cadre of internationally recognized independent agents, said EWM president Ron Shuffield. The venture dispels rumors that former network affiliate Coldwell Banker was going to buy EWM. "We have created a very effective operating model over the past 39 years," Mr. Shuffield said, "and strongly believe that remaining independent is in the best interest of our customers, associates and staff."
EWM GROWTH: Having grown five-fold in the past four years, Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell is expanding three of its 11 South Florida offices to make room for new staff, president Ron Shuffield said. The roughly $50 million residential real estate firm is doubling the size of its downtown Fort Lauderdale, Key Biscayne and Miami Beach (41st Street) offices. With about 100 staff and more than 700 sales agents, he said, the firm in 2002 closed $1.8 worth of residential sales.
KNOW YOUR BANK LAWS: The Florida International Bankers Association is hosting an all-day conference in Miami Jan. 24 on the USA Patriot Act and its newly expanded compliance measures. The act sets fourth a rigorous, and many say costly, set of know-your-customer regulations designed to help banks prevent money laundering by foreign nationals with US deposits. Recent non-compliance fines include $8 million levied against Western Union and $100,000 against Great Eastern, "which underscore the seriousness of the new legislation," said Patricia Roth, association executive director. "FIBA wants everyone in the financial industry to attend so that no one else is fined." Details: 305-579-0086.
AFFORDABLE HOUSING: A $94,990 grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank Board of Atlanta will help lower costs of 17 single-family homes through the Centro Campesino Farmworker Center for farm workers and their families. The grant, through a partnership of the center and First Union Direct Bank, was announced Tuesday as one of 10 awards in the state totaling $2.1 million
NORMANDY LOFTS: Normandy Island is about to get its first loft-style condo project, for which developers Dana Berman and Marco Giancola of Majestic Properties held a groundbreaking Tuesday. Mr. Giancola said construction of the 8-unit building could be done by December. Priced from $240,000 to $310,000, the two-bedroom, two-bath units will have 18-foot ceilings with walls of wraparound glass, balconies, Euro-style kitchens and baths. He said three units remain. Called Linx, the $2 million building will sit at Normandy Island's golf course, 185 South Shore Dr. "This is the most developing area of Miami Beach," said Mr. Giancola, who handles sales. The building will feature a rooftop garden. Details: (305) 322-8266.
CHAMBER HONORS: Catholic Charities Legal Services and the Non-Violence Project won the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce's NOVO Awards for nonprofit organizations last week at a chamber luncheon. Catholic Charities Legal Services provides legal services to immigrants who can't afford a lawyer. With 40 employees, the group serves 1,000 immigrants monthly. One priority is addressing the needs of INS detainees. Non-Violence Project's goal is to help about 50,000 at-risk youths develop positive attitudes.
MAYOR'S PRIORITIES: Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas will deliver his seventh State of the County address at 10 a.m. Feb. 12 at the Miami-Dade Community College, Wolfson Campus, 300 NE 2nd Ave., in the Chapman Center. He plans to highlight county government accomplishments in 2002 and detail his priorities for 2003. Priorities include finding a way to insure more than 400,000 uninsured residents and creating an aviation authority to oversee the county's four airports, including Miami International Airport.
HUGHES GROWS: Orlando-based building materials company Hughes Supply is expanding its Miami-Dade warehousing and distribution operations. Last week Codina Group of Coral Gables broke ground on two industrial buildings spread across 22 acres at 10810 NW 92nd Terr. The first roughly 70,000 square-foot building will house water and sewer supply divisions while the second 60,000-square-foot site will house mostly building materials. Both are due for completion in June. With annual sales of $4 billion, Hughes distributes more than 240,000 products nationwide to commercial, residential and industrial infrastructure markets.
AVENTURA CONDO: A two-tower, seven-story luxury mid-rise condo has be announced in Aventura. International developers Enrique Feldman, Paul Hariton and Sami Shiro are teaming up with East Coast developer Enrique Darer to create The Atrium at Aventura. As principals of VenAventura LLC, the group bought 3.4 acres at 3331 NE 188th St. for the project. Turnberry International Realty will handle sales and marketing. A sales center will open in February temporarily at 2846 NE 187th St. and an on-site center should follow in six months. Details: (305) 935-0300.
TRUMPED: Construction financing totaling $135 million has been arranged for the Trump Palace by L.J. Melody & Co., a CB Ellis company headquartered in Houston. Work began in advance of the loan on the 278-unit, 55-story oceanfront highrise in Sunny Isles, said Charles J. Foshini, Melody director of the South Florida Markets. Terms were not disclosed. Dezer Properties is developing this and two other high rises with Donald Trump, all part of a three-phase 900-unit resort called the Trump Royale.
STATE SHUFFLE: In a reshuffling of state agencies, the Florida Department of Banking & Finance is now the Florida Department of Financial Services. The new department combines the state comptroller's office, which oversaw the department of Banking & Finance, with the state treasurer, overseeing the department of insurance and serving as fire marshal. The merger, which became official Jan. 7, brings to fruition a 1998 constitutional amendment combining the two offices into the Department of Financial Services, which now sports a revamped website, www.dbf.state.fl.us/.
FAITH-BASED FUNDS: With President Bush kicking off his faith-based Compassion Capital Fund, the Mennonite Economic Development Associates will disburse the federal funds for nonprofit groups in South Florida. The US Department of Health and Human Services recently created the $24.8 million fund to be divided among 21 intermediary organizations such as the Mennonites, said John Little, heading the South Florida Community Development Coalition. These 21 groups will help others access funds, develop staff, expand reach of their programs into the community and replicate promising programs, he said. Details: (717) 560-6546.
LANDMARKS FOR A WEEKEND: The Wolfsonian-Florida International University hopes to raise about $150,000 in its annual "A Very Wolfsonian Weekend" March 7-9. Events will take place at three landmark buildings, said Cathy Leff, director. New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp will kick off the weekend with a lecture at the Egyptian-Deco-style Scottish Rite Temple, 471 NW Third St. The March 8 Imperial Propaganda Ball will be at a former World War II munitions warehouse, a little-known Miami site with spectacular views of the Miami River, she said. The event will close with a Sunday brunch at Freedom Tower. Cost ranges from $250 to $1,000. Details: (305) 535-2622.
TALLAHASSEE BOUND: When Al Cardenas, outgoing chair of Florida's Republican Party, leaves his post Jan. 26, he will have a full-time job growing his law firm's Tallahassee government relations division. Tew Cardenas Rebak Kellogg Lehman DeMaria Tague Raymond & Levine, based in Miami, will expand its three-member office in the capital to 12, Mr. Cardenas said. Mr. Cardenas, who worked full-time as GOP chair, said the firm waited until his term was over to open the Tallahassee litigation and advocacy practice. "The firm pledged not to be involved in state government representation," he said, "during my term as chairman." The firm is now moving ahead, he said. Tew Cardenas specializes in commercial, securities, aviation, bankruptcy, real estate and land use, insurance and governmental affairs.
MIAMI LEASE ACTION: Jones Lang LaSalle Americas Inc, a commercial real estate landlord representative, is securing Young & Rubicam Inc., and the New York Life Insurance Co., as tenants for two clients. Young & Rubicam, an advertising and public relation agency, renewed its 11-year-lease for 41,800 square feet at the Brickell Key Centre, 601 Brickell Key Drive, said Bonnie Phillips, a spokesman for the companies. New York Life signed a 10-year lease for 14,432 square feet at the Doral Corporate Center, 3750 NW 87th Ave in Miami. Moving from the Waterford building in the Blue Lagoon area, the insurance form occupied the space vacated by Hamilton Bank almost a year ago, Ms. Phillips said.
HOUSES & HORSES: Fortune International announces that construction is to begin in April on equestrian-themed communities in south Miami-Dade. Five-acre home sites at Santa Teresa Country Residences, at SW 344 St. and SW 217 Ave., will be part of a 210-acre enclave with polo field and an equestrian complex. "We will have permanent staff on site to care for horses when residents are away," said German Hoyos, sales director. About 30 miles south of downtown Miami and close to the entrance to the Florida Keys, the polo-oriented community is planned for completion April 2004. Pre-construction prices range from $400,000 to $550,000. Details: (305) 351-1000.