Written by Miami Today on January 23, 2003
Miami is a weekly feature of Miami Today, keeping readers ahead
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PRICIER THAN AVERAGE: Consumer prices in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area rose slightly faster than the nation as a whole last year, according to figures the US Department of Labor released last week. Local consumer prices rose 2.8% while prices nationwide rose 2.4% for the year. Nationally, the rise was ahead of the 1.6% pace of the prior year. Areas with larger increases in 2002 included Los Angeles at 4.1%, Detroit at 3.9%, and New York and Philadelphia at 3.2% each. At the low end were Atlanta with a 1.5% increase and San Francisco at 1.7%.
FOUNTAIN SPLASH: Florida’s Bureau of Historic Preservation pledged $40,000 for the restoration of the historic DeSoto Fountain in Coral Gables. The grant will enable the city to make an architectural assessment of the 1920s fountain and guide its long-term preservation. Coral Gables will match the state grant with funds earmarked for municipal beautification. The fountain rises out from the roundabout intersection where DeSoto and Granada boulevards meet Sevilla Avenue.
NEW CITY MANAGER: North Bay Village city commissioners appointed Dr. James Vardalis city manager, a post vacated two months ago when Rafael Casals resigned. The small community of three manmade islands linked by the John F. Kennedy Causeway, or 79th Street, on Biscayne Bay had been without its top administrator since November.
GIMENEZ MAKES MOVE: After two years and eight months managing the city of Miami, Carlos Gimenez is ready to put his experience to work in the private sector. "After almost 30 years in the public sector, I am looking forward to starting this new chapter of my life," said the 49-year-old Gimenez, also a former Miami fire chief. He said he has accepted a job at a "large multinational firm as a government operations and efficiency consultant," but stopped short of disclosing the firm’s name. "I will make an official announcement within the next two weeks." Mr. Gimenez extended his stay with the city until Mayor Manny Diaz selects a replacement. Mayor Diaz said Tuesday he is close to finding the next city manager and added "I will have someone in place by the time he leaves."
MAKING TRACKS: Miami-Dade commissioners today (1/23) are to discuss acquiring the Homestead-Miami Speedway at no cost. While the City of Homestead now owns it, Homestead-Miami Speedway LLC runs it. Due to a year-old Florida Supreme Court ruling, municipal facilities run by for-profit groups must pay property taxes, which they didn’t do before. Counties, though, are tax exempt. If the commission approves the deal, the county’s power over the speedway would be limited. For example, it wouldn’t be able to sell the site without Homestead’s OK.
HOSPITABLE IDEAS: The Miami-Dade Aviation Department is asking developers for ideas to upgrade and improve the Miami International Hotel Airport. Developers have until Jan. 31 to offer concepts for the hotel, said Ezequiel Orji, department finance director. Officials will use those ideas to draft specifications for a request for proposals, which will be available to anyone interested in participating, Mr. Orji said. His department hopes to award a contract to a developer in September.
AUDITOR ON TAP: Miami-Dade commissioners today (1/23) are to discuss creating an Office of Commission Auditor, a post county voters mandated in September. The legislation will set minimum auditor qualifications, appointment and removal conditions, and scope of services. Office functions would include helping commissioners draft the annual budget, determine if county staff followed commissioners’ recommendations and audit contracts signed with the county or county-funded projects, said Commission Jimmy Morales.
LINK TO SPAIN: Miami-Dade commissioners today (1/23) are to discuss granting Florida International University $100,000 to help establish the Madrid Center for Education, Research, and Development. The center would aim at developing educational programs and research on issues of common importance to South Florida and Greater Madrid, including the areas of immigration, economic development and information technology.
ONE MIAMI HITS NO. 1: The Related Group of Florida announced that its 896-unit One Miami project at the mouth of the Miami River has hit record pre-sales among all its projects. The mixed-used structure is a two-tower project of 44 and 45 stories, with one building 95% pre-sold and the second past 50%. The exact number of units sold – at prices from $145,000 to more than $700,000 – was unavailable. Groundbreaking is set for spring. The Related Group of Florida, led by developer Jorge Perez, has also built The Mark on Brickell, Murano, Murano Grande, Ocean I and II, Portofino Tower and Yacht Club at Portofino.
GARDEN REHAB: Lester Collins Pancoast has been named lead architect and designer to resurrect Watson Island’s Ichimura Miami-Japan Garden. Mr. Pancoast, also known as a watercolor painter, is member of the American Society of Landscape Architects and received his degree in architecture from Cornell University. He is a member of the Board of Governors of Fairchild Tropical Garden in Miami and an overseer of The Kampong of the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Coconut Grove. Renovations of the Watson Island gardens is spearheaded by a coalition composed of the City of Miami, Friends of the Japanese Garden and Jungle Habitat, plus Parrot Jungle Island, all working on the garden as part of its 45-year lease agreement. The $1.2 million garden will be relocated to one acre east of the new $47 million Parrot Jungle, which opens in July. The garden opened in 1961 as the "San Ai-En Japanese Garden" but closed in 1981. Seven years later, it was restored and renamed the "Ichimura Miami-Japan Garden," which Hurricane Andrew destroyed in 1992.
FOREIGN EXCHANGE, PART ONE: Miami-Dade Community College faculty members will begin teaching courses in the Dominican Republic, thanks to an agreement with a non-profit group headed by a former president of the Caribbean country. According to the Jan. 9 agreement, students of the island nation can also come to Miami for summer classes. Leonel Fernandez, president of non-profit The Global Foundation for Democracy and the Development of the Dominican Republic, signed off on the agreement. He was president of the Dominican Republic from 1996 to 2000.
FRENCH, PART DEUX: Miami-Dade County public schools will expand promotion and teaching of the French language, culture and education, according to an agreement with the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The program is open to French nationals as well as Americans and other nationalities, and already exists in three county public schools. The French section of the county’s international studies program, started in the 1988-89 school year, affects students in first through 12th grade. School Superintendent Merrett Stierheim signed a memo of understanding with Christophe Bouchard, consul general of France, last week to underline the commitment to promote bilingual and bi-cultural education.
ROOM WITH A VIEW: Parrot Jungle Island’s new ballroom is open for tours. Part of the first phase of the attraction’s opening on Watson Island, the 14,000-square-foot Treetop Ballroom offers views of Flamingo Lake – soon to be home to more than 100 Caribbean flamingos and tropical fish – the downtown Miami skyline and cruise ships docked at the port. The tropical-theme ballroom, with indoor and outdoor meeting space, seats 1,000. Details: (305) 400-7231.
BEACH & THE BUREAU: Consultants with California-based Economics Research Associates next month will start analyzing what services the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau offers Miami Beach. The city renewed a sales and marketing contract with the bureau May 22 for two years only after much debate whether the not-for-profit organization is the city’s best choice. With the possibility that bureau headquarters could move from Brickell Avenue to Watson Island after considering leasing office space on the Beach, results may help determine what entity will handle future sales, marketing and public relations for the city. The consultants come to Miami Beach the week of Feb. 3 to start work, said Assistant City Manager Christina Cuervo.
REDEVELOPMENT: A hearing at today’s (1/23) Miami City Commission meeting will review development of Wagner Square, 2.95-city-owned acres at 1700 NW 14th St. Using $5 million in federal funds, the city and Wagner Square may turn the contaminated site into 198 condominiums plus commercial and retail space in the Allapattah community, said Otto Boudet, senior adviser for economic development in the mayor’s office. City documents estimate the development could add nearly $305,000 in annual property taxes. The meeting starts at 9 a.m. at the Manuel Artime Center, 900 SW First St