County officials prepare for public input on bond issue
By Shannon Pettypiece
With dozens of special-interest groups vying for a piece of a proposed billion-dollar bond, Miami-Dade County officials are forming a strategy to gather input on who should benefit.
County commissioners insist restoration of the Freedom Tower and new homes for Miami's art and science museums be part of the $1.6 billion issue, set to go before voters in November 2004.
Taxes would not need to be increased because the new measure would replace the Decade of Progress Bond, which will be paid off in October 2004.
But before voters can vote on the new issue, the county must decide who would get the money and how much each group or project would get.
The Board of County Commissioners voted Sept. 9 to develop a public-input process to determine what would be included.
"The plan is comprised of intensive public involvement," county spokesman Juan Mendieta said. "The aim is to get out into all the commission districts and hold town-hall meetings."
Since last month, four county staffers have worked on a community outreach program on which the commission is to vote Oct. 21.
"Information is the key for the successful bond referendum," Mr. Mendieta said, adding that the county hopes to run the bond campaign similar to the one it ran for a half-cent transportation surtax a year ago.
Once the commission has approved a plan, the county will organize a series of public meetings in all the commissioners' districts over the next four months. The last step before the issue can go on the ballot would be for the commission to make a final tally of projects in the bond.
Commissioners say money should go to the creation of a South Florida museum in the Freedom Tower. But before the building can be rolled into a bond, a public entity would have to gain ownership of it from the Mas Canosa family, which purchased the tower in 1999 and spent $19 million refurbishing the 79-year-old landmark.
The Cuban American National Foundation, which is working with the owners to restore the building, has hired a consultant to determine what would be needed to put a museum in the building and is in talks with a South Florida university, Mr. Garcia said.
The Freedom Tower, 600 Biscayne Blvd., originally was headquarters to the defunct Miami News, which left the building in 1950. In the 1960s, the US government turned the building into a center for Cuban refugees. The building has been vacant and closed to the public since the 1970s.
The foundation is talking with the board of the county's Empowerment Zone, which works to create jobs in economically depressed areas, to determine its plans for the area, Mr. Garcia said.
"The idea is to make sure whatever is done there coordinates with bringing back that area," he said.
He said it would be several years before a museum opened there. "We want the right mix of people and something people feel comfortable with."
While plans for a museum are in the preliminary phase, the foundation will look for volunteers to help raise funds.