WATER WORLD: Miami-Dade county commissioners last week tentatively approved a commuter ferry service on Biscayne Bay between Haulover Park and downtown Miami in the north and between Matheson Park and downtown in the south. Metropolitan Planning Organization chief Jose-Luis Mesa was authorized to negotiate with companies to develop a privately funded test program. He's expected to report to the commission by April. Then, the project will either win full approval or be killed.
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ETERNAL LIFE: The Jay Malina International Trade Consortium is doing such a good job creating foreign business opportunities for local companies that the county commission decided last week to let it live forever. Under county law, the agency had to be reviewed — and officially renewed — every five years or close up shop. But commissioners said the consortium is vital to the local economy and five-year reviews are no longer necessary. They voted to let the consortium stay in business without needing county approval again.
TALK RADIO: County government owns a TV station. Now commissioners are thinking about going into the radio business, too. Led by Jose "Pepe" Diaz, the governing body directed County Manager George Burgess to look into buying a radio station to broadcast commission meetings. Mr. Burgess has 30 days to complete his study and made a recommendation to the board.
PARKING RX: After heated debate, Miami-Dade commissioners last week approved buying a $23.5 million parking garage considered key to building the $111 million Poinciana Biopharmaceutical Park in Liberty City. Joe Martinez, Dennis Moss and Katy Sorenson balked at paying for the 1,583-space facility before Town Center Properties builds the rest of the project, which is to include facilities for drug manufacturers, local medical schools, clinics and cutting-edge research. They said they feared the county would get stuck with a useless garage. But Assistant County Manager Roger Carlton, who negotiated the deal, said the developer won't be paid for the garage if the other parts of the project aren't built. The deal was then approved 12-0.
CHEAP HOUSES: A one-year test project designed as a solution to Miami-Dade's affordable-housing crisis in which developers are higher-density zoning in return for building less-expensive homes won county commission approval last week. Sponsored by Vice Chairman Barbara Jordan, the test program ends more than a decade of debate over the issue. Originally, Ms. Jordan wanted the legislation to force developers to build some low-cost housing in every project. But builders screamed, so she backed off — just to get her plan through the commission. However, if the voluntary program doesn't produce more affordable housing by next year, she said, she'll sponsor new legislation to make it mandatory.
BUILDING BAN: Despite the threat of a property-rights lawsuit, the county commission last week slapped a temporary building moratorium on a 2-square-mile area around the historic and predominantly black Richmond Heights neighborhood in southern Miami-Dade. Commissioner Audrey Edmonson sponsored the ban after Richmond Heights residents protested plans to build a gas station and strip mall in the heart of their neighborhood on commercially zoned land. Now, all building and all new permits are on hold until the county completes a two-month review of zoning in the area. An attorney representing the strip-mall developer said the county's action infringed on his client's rights to build on his property. Last month, commissioners killed the same building ban. But Ms. Edmonson revived the proposal using a little-known commission rule.
GRAPEVINE: The Italy-America Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring a seminar to promote business between 40 topnotch Italian vineyards and Miami-Dade importers, hotels and eateries Wednesday at the DoubleTree Grand Hotel Biscayne Bay. Details: 305-609-5113.
SIGNING UP: Chairman Bruno Barreiro's legislation that would create a zoning loophole to allow gigantic murals in downtown Miami won tentative approval at the county commission meeting last week. The measure was sparked by a developer's request to put a huge electronic billboard on a shopping mall tower across from the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts on Biscayne Boulevard. Officials shot down the request because county zoning forbids such signage. The proposed law would make it legal only in downtown Miami.
PROACTIVE PRAISE: Coral Gables received an exemplary rating from the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation for its ability to enforce building codes that reduce exposure to catastrophic events such as hurricanes. The state regulation office attributes skyrocketing insurance rates in part to ineffective building codes or lack of code enforcement and recognized the Gables on its Web site for, as Florida insurance commissioner Kevin McCarty wrote in a congratulatory letter, "taking every effort necessary to lower insurance rates."
CHAMBER SOUTH PRESIDENT: Mary Scott Russell will become president of Chamber South on Feb. 12. She will succeed Donna Masson, who emerged from retirement to take over the top staff position as interim president after Karen del Valle resigned in early November. Ms. del Valle is an independent Web-site development consultant and is "looking at other non-profit opportunities," she said. Ms. Russell is leaving her post as coordinator for business development at the Informed Families/South Miami Coalition. She served as mayor of South Miami from 2004 to 2006. As chamber president, Ms. Russell said she plans to expand existing events to generate revenue, "to provide service to our membership and to increase membership," she said. "We're poised to grow, and the smaller businesses are going to need our assistance in marketing."
LAUDED LEADER: Jeffrey S. Bartel, vice president of corporate and external affairs for Florida Power & Light Co. and chairman and president of Gulliver Schools, will receive the Beacon Council's new Young Leader Award, recognizing a business leader for contributions to the local economy. The award is to be presented at the fifth annual Beacon Awards on Feb. 28.
ACADEMY ASSOCIATON: A film about a local arts program has been nominated for an Academy Award for best short-subject documentary film. "Rehearsing a Dream" is the story behind the annual youngARTS Week in Miami, sponsored by the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, founded by Lin Arison and her late husband, Ted. The film follows young visual and literary artists participating in the annual workshop and competition. The Academy Awards are scheduled for Feb. 25.
CHANGING HANDS: O.J.A. Development Co. of Key Biscayne bought the Holiday Inn Golden Glades Hotel, 148 NW 167th St., from Latrun Realty of Miami Beach on Jan. 25 for $10 million. New owner Francisco Martinez will continue to operate the seven-story, 163-room building as a Holiday Inn, said Bard Brenner, who brokered the transaction. Mr. Martinez was out of town and unavailable. Mr. Brenner said he doesn't know of any renovations planned for the 1971 building.
IMMIGRATION INTRICACIES: The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce will host the Business/Employer Immigration Seminar to help prepare employers for upcoming comprehensive immigration reform and regulations and requirements that may come with it. Government officials and expert immigration practitioners are to speak at the Feb. 9 event, 8 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Ray Goode-Ryder Conference Center, 1601 Biscayne Blvd. Details: (305) 577-5471.
CBS LIVE: CBS is broadcasting "The Early Show" live this week, with studios set up in Miami Beach on 10th Street and Ocean Drive, across from the Clevelander Hotel. Guests include chefs Douglas Rodriguez and Norman Van Aken live Friday in a cookoff hosted by chef Bobby Flay.†Details: email@example.com.
PIECE OF CAKE: Also in town this week shooting an episode for a Super Bowl-related event is the Food Network's "Ace of Cake." The reality television show follows the day-to-day operations of Baltimore bakery Charm City Cakes and its owner, Duff Goldman, one of the most-popular cakemakers in the country. Details: www.foodnetwork.com.