Written by Miami Today on December 11, 2003
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SWEET NOVEMBER: Miami hotels continue to outpace the nation in occupancy and room rates. From Nov. 2 to 29, 71.1% of Miami-Dade hotel rooms were filled at an average of $102.91 a night, compared to the nation’s 56.3% at $80.60 and Florida’s 60.6% at $85.97, according to Smith Travel. The results, released by the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau on Monday, show local occupancy up 13.4% from last year and 6.6% above record 2000 levels. Room rates are up 5.9% from last year though down 1.3% from 2000. Resort-tax receipts in Miami-Dade County are halfway back from their 9/11 plunge through September. While 2003 revenues are still 6.1% below pre-9/11, visitor dollars are up 6.5% from the January-to-September period last year.
MOST FEEL SAFER: In electronic surveys taken at an open meeting with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge in a Miami-Dade Community College auditorium Tuesday, 52% said they felt safer today than a year ago and 64% said government should be able to search existing databases. Most audience members – 69% men and 31% women – said they did not know what the county’s and state’s emergency action plans are and had either never visited a government Web site to find information on homeland security or were dissatisfied with what they found. Mr. Ridge was here to get feedback on security measures and answer questions.
NO DEAL YET: Miami has not committed funding for the headquarters of the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, city spokeswoman Janet Lopez said Tuesday. "We have not agreed to anything yet," she said, rebutting published reports that the city would cover half of the $12 million to $16 million estimated cost to build a headquarters. Nothing is scheduled to go before the City Commission, she said. "As of right now, we are speaking in very general terms to assess what their needs are and what our options could be," she said. Miami is one of 11 cities bidding for the secretariat of the FTAA, which would be a pact among 34 nations in the Western Hemisphere.
NO, THANKS: Florida FTAA Inc., the non-profit organization seeking the FTAA headquarters for the region, has asked South Florida cities for pitches. While Miami is the odds-on favorite, others mentioned include Coral Gables, where the idea for the trade pact was born during the 1994 Summit of the Americas. Mayor Don Slesnick said Coral Gables sent police, fire-rescue and support staff to last month’s meeting in Miami but won’t bid for the headquarters – not that he wouldn’t want it, he said, but because there’s no room to build and the city can’t afford to. "It’s somewhat out of our range," he said Tuesday. "Now, if the FTAA was looking for rental space, Class A office space …"
TOLL PLAZA SPIN: Miami-Dade Expressway officials say their State Route 836 toll plaza opened last month on schedule and within budget, but Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro disagrees. At a Monday meeting, he pointed to 1998 documents calling for it to open two years earlier at $500,000 less. A Dec. 1 Miami Herald story quoted authority officials as saying the project "came in on time and on budget at $31.7 million." An authority official was unable to clear up the discrepancy when the commissioner asked. Commission Chairwoman Barbara Carey-Shuler had her own explanation, joking that, "if you’re an (independent) authority you get good press."
ALL BUSINESS: County government is a business and the citizens are customers. At least, that’s the way Miami-Dade County Manager George Burgess wants county employees to start viewing their roles. In a presentation to the county commission Monday, he said the county’s administrative side is going to start running more like a business, with emphasis on citizen feedback. "If you were running a business, would you run it without any grasp of what customers want?" he asked. "If you did, you wouldn’t be in business long." He said the county is analyzing at least one citizen survey to help set priorities for new fiscal year. He shared his plan in October with senior management and their staff.
ART MUSEUM TALLY: Miami Art Museum officials report the facility is $700,000 richer thanks to last weekend’s annual fundraising ball that attracted 750 guests. Proceeds from the $5,000-a-table event will help finance museum operations, exhibitions and educational programs. Some funds could be set aside for a new home at Miami’s Bicentennial Park. The museum’s goal for the event was to raise $650,000.
COUNTY BUSINESS GRANTS: Small businesses have until Wednesday (12/17) to tap into Miami-Dade County’s Mom and Pop Business Grant Program. To qualify for up to $10,000 in grants, businesses must be 2 years old, employ fewer than eight people, not be affiliated with a national chain and not have defaulted on a county loan or grant. Details: Commissioner Sally Heyman’s district office, (305) 787-5999.
HONORS FOR CULLOM: Bill Cullom, just-retired CEO of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, returned to the executive committee and board of governors meeting last week to receive the first of several honors coming to him. Daniella Levine, executive director of the Human Services Coalition, presented the coalition’s Lifetime Achievement Award for accomplishments that include making this "the first chamber in the nation to host a child-care committee under his leadership" and being "a bridge-builder and facilitator of the highest order." On Friday, the chamber will present him its highest honor, the Sand in My Shoes award, at a dinner gala.
COMING THROUGH: Police drew praise for work at the recent downtown Free Trade Area of the Americas meeting from Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood at last week’s trustee meeting of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. As the state’s point person for planning the meetings, she said, she went to a briefing and reported back that "the place where I feel so secure about the plans and preparations is the Miami Police Department," she said. Then, turning to Police Chief John Timoney, seated at a lunch table, she added, "And, chief, you delivered in grand style."
BUILDING BONDS: The business community is being asked for leadership "to help guide the program" as Miami-Dade County prepares to seek a $2 billion general obligation bond issue for a cornucopia of infrastructure needs. County Manager George Burgess asked the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce executive committee last week to take a leadership role in preparation for a November 2004 referendum on the bond issue, helping to build a private support team.
BARRY CHANGES: As Barry University continues its presidential search for a successor to Sister Jean O’Laughlin, the university has appointed a new head of university relations – veteran journalist Mike Laderman. In addition to his work as an editor and columnist, he oversaw media relations at Nova Southeastern University in Broward County for the past eight years. Sister Jean, who has led the traditionally Catholic university for 20 years, will step down July 1.
HO HO HO: The Coconut Grove Chamber of Commerce will have its annual toy drive and silent auction Tuesday. Attendees are asked to bring an unwrapped gift. The event will be 6-8 p.m. at the chamber’s offices, 2820 McFarlane Road. Cost is $10 for members, $15 for guests. Details: (305) 444-7270.
FILM FACTS: A presentation and question-and-answer session on the Miami International Film Festival, scheduled for Jan. 30-Feb. 8, will begin at 10:30 a.m. today (12/11) in Suite 2106, James K. Batten Hall, Building 2, 300 NE Second Ave., on Miami-Dade College’s downtown Wolfson Campus. College President Eduardo Padron and festival director Nicole Guillemet are to preside. The college assumed responsibility for the festival in October after FIU dropped the program earlier in the year. Details: (305) 642-3132.