Written by Miami Today on February 3, 2005
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TAX BREAKS: The Miami-Dade County commission last week unanimously approved five-year property-tax exemptions for a $2.5 million expansion at American Bankers Insurance Group’s headquarters at 11222 Quail Roost Drive and $738,000 in improvements to Hotel InterContinental, 100 Chopin Plaza in downtown Miami. American Bankers saves $9,178 a year, the hotel $4,017.
COLORFUL CHANGES: A contract that will result in new color-coding of the massive Dolphin and Flamingo garages at Miami International Airport won county commission approval last week. EAC Consulting Inc. is to receive $655,000 to plan for garage upgrades.
ETHICS CODE: A proposed change to the county’s ethics code is moving toward a final county commission vote in March. It would prohibit new Miami-Dade County employees from lobbying for work for former employers for two years. It’s due study by the commission’s Internal Management and Fiscal Responsibility Committee, an aide for Commissioner Rebeca Sosa said. If the commission approves the measure, a section would be added to the county’s conflict-of-interest and code of ethics ordinance, which establishes minimum ethical conduct and behavior for county employees.
CENTER FUNDS: The Miami-Dade County Commission agreed unanimously Tuesday to release up to $1.3 million for the Performing Arts Center, mostly for project subcontractors. "The vast majority of these funds, probably $1 million, goes to goal-directed project management," said Assistant County Manager Bill Johnson, "The balance goes to subcontractors under (center architect) Cesar Pelli & Associates. Probably 99% of these funds flow to firms under Cesar Pelli. This was money that was approved as part of restructuring on July 27, 2004." Last year, the county approved spending a further $67.7 million of revenue from its convention development tax for the center.
BOXED IN: Another big-box retailer, BJ’s Wholesale Club, will join Wal-Mart in South Dade. Officials say they’ll open a 117,600-square-foot outlet this summer on 10 acres at Sixth Avenue and Southeast Eighth Street in Homestead, said Lillian Delgado, city public-information officer. The site, about 2 miles from Wal-Mart in Florida City, will be the fifth BJ’s in Miami-Dade. Others are in Cutler Ridge, Hialeah and Kendall. BJ’s bought the site from the Houseman family, Ms. Delgado said. She did not release the purchase price. Ground was to be broken at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday (2/2) at 650 SE Eighth St. BJ’s has 155 clubs in 16 states.
SCHOOLS GET MONEY: An independent oversight committee released $31 million in state construction funds to Miami-Dade Public Schools so the money wouldn’t revert to the state, said Marie Bell, executive director of the Miami-Dade School District Land Advisory and Facilities Maintenance Operations Board. The committee five days earlier had released $20 million, she said, but felt obligated to release another $11 million before the Tuesday deadline.
MORE TO BE DONE: Ms. Bell said the oversight team agreed that the district has made progress but has not made all the changes the board has sought. Cutting school maintenance costs $1 a square foot is one such recommendation. "That hasn’t happened," she said. The oversight board holds another $8 million in state funds and could receive more this spring if the Legislature allocates money. The Legislature created the board in 2000 following several scandals related to school construction and land purchases.
NEW CAR SALES: Ford Leasing Development Co. is leasing a site from Stair Realty LLC to develop an auto dealership on a 5-acre tract at 9000 NW 12th St., off State Highway 836. The 10-year lease is worth $5.3 million, according to broker Ernesto Casal of Alliance Companies. Construction and renovation of an existing 100,000-square-foot building are to start in June, he said. Work is expected to be finished by 2006.
VISIBLE VIOLATIONS: Open complaints and violations on properties within city limits can now be viewed on a code-enforcement Web site the City of Miami launched Monday. By entering a folio number or address, users can see open violations on the property. A page of frequently asked questions will assist users. Details: www.miamigov.com/codeenforcement.
OVERTOWN DOUGHNUTS: "Overtown has been continuously the hole in the doughnut. The Crosswinds $200 million project will bring back this historic and once-vibrant area," Mayor Manny Diaz told the Miami City Commission on Thursday before settlement of a long-disputed 1988 city lease and development agreement with the Community Redevelopment Agency, Poinciana Village of Miami and Sawyer’s Walk. "The population of Overtown will grow by 30%, the homeownership rate will grow by over 20% just in this neighborhood. Homeownership was at its peak in 1950, at 12%, and today is less than 4%."
PUSH-PULL: Mayor Diaz closed with a Booker T. Washington quote: "There are two ways to determine one’s strength. One is pushing down, and the other is pulling up. With your approval of this project today, we will all pull this neighborhood up to its rightful place once again." The resolution then passed.
SEVEN IS ENOUGH: No fewer than seven votes will carry a motion at Miami-Dade County’s zoning appeals board after changes in procedure agreed upon Tuesday. A proposal had been made that two-thirds of commissioners present could carry a motion as opposed to two-thirds of the 13 in office, a minimum of nine. But the resolution was modified so decisions aren’t made by too few. Vice Chairman Dennis Moss proposed that "at least seven affirmative votes or two-thirds of the votes of those present whichever is greater" would satisfy as a majority. Commissioner Katy Sorenson commented that her peers should attend meetings out of a sense of duty.
AUDIT PARROT JUNGLE: The county commission voted unanimously Tuesday to separate a $150,000 payment to cash-strapped Parrot Jungle from Community Development Block Grant funds and to request that the attraction’s finances be independently audited. The commission heard that the Watson Island venue had defaulted on two repayments totaling about $2.2 million of a $25 million loan shared 80% by the City of Miami and 20% by the county. Though the county footed the bill for last year’s $1.3 million payment from what was described as pooled funds, County Manager George Burgess said the debt would likely be attached to the block grant fund. Assistant County Manager Tony Crapp blamed reduced gate revenues at the venue, which faces future project Museum Park across the bay, for the financial difficulties.