TAKE THE HIGHWAY: Miami-Dade County commissioners will be keeping a close eye on state legislation under consideration in Tallahassee to let the private sector build highways and charge tolls for using them. "I think it will have a huge, huge impact," said Commissioner Joe Martinez during a meeting last Thursday. A key question yet to be answered is who will pay for the maintenance, he said. "I want a detailed report from our lobbyist once more is known." Commissioner Katy Sorenson said the privatization measure needs to be examined in-depth. "We really need to have our legislative team looking at it," she said, "and giving us an analysis."
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BIG PRIVATIZATION FAN: Javier Rodriguez, executive director of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, is enthusiastic about the highway privatization plan and sees it as a way to get local projects done more quickly. "It will affect MDX in a positive way," he told county commissioners last week. He cautioned, however, that the deals should be limited to 35 years. "We shouldn't be selling or leasing for 99 years."
A COKE AND A FLOWER: It's trendy to privatize highway ownership, but what about medians and roadsides? Miami-Dade Commissioner Javier Souto says an idea he picked up in South America might bloom well here. Traveling there recently, he said he was charmed by the attractive highway and median landscaping. Flower patterns arranged to show the names and logos of corporate mainstays such as Coca-Cola made it obvious who the benefactors were. "The Coca-Cola thing in the flowers was beautiful," he said. Corporate landscaping "may be a way to offset the costs of beautification" along Miami-Dade's expressways, he said during last Thursday's meeting of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, the county's transportation planning entity. As a worldwide destination, Miami-Dade needs to do a lot more to make its roadsides attractive, Mr. Souto said. "Why not let private enterprise help?"
OPERA SEARCH: Florida Grand Opera is seeking a temporary headquarters to consolidate its operations after its plan to buy a building west of the airport fell through, said spokesman Erin Charlton. "It didn't work out, but we're looking, and we've found some buildings that we really like in the same area," she said. The organization plans to construct headquarters next to the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts, but it has been forced out of its Coral Way building to make way for the Cuban Museum, which purchased the opera offices last month.
HISTORIC NOMINATIONS: The City of Miami Beach is proposing to nominate two districts, the North Shore Architectural District and Normandy Isles Architectural District, for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. That would enable owners of properties there to take advantage of potential tax and other financial benefits, said Jorge Gomez, Miami Beach planning director. An informational meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. today (3/29) at the North Shore Park & Youth Center, 501 72nd St.
COUNTY MAKES GRADE: Miami-Dade County's Building Code Compliance Office last week received the highest possible rating from the state Office of Insurance Regulation's building code grading schedule. The office earned an rating of exemplary less than a year after homeowner complaints about unscrupulous contractors increased 256% between April and June. The rating will lead to discounts in property insurance premiums for county residents, county officials say. The rating system is generated through evaluations of code administration, building-plan reviews and field inspections.
SALES DOWN, PRICES UP: While single-family home and condominium sales are down in Miami-Dade County, median prices are slightly up from this time last year, according to the Florida Association of Realtors. Realtors sold 417 single-family homes in Miami-Dade in February, down 31 from February 2006. The county's condo market also slumped as 432 units were sold last month, compared with 774 last year. The median prices for both increased, however, from $368,700 to $381,400 for single-family homes and $266,900 to $279,500 for condos.
ORANGE (BOWL) OUTLOOK: Miami administrators and University of Miami officials will meet within two weeks to discuss the fate of the Orange Bowl, says City Manager Pete Hernandez. He'll need twice the $85 million available to do significant renovations and add amenities, he said. "The idea is: You need to be able to go beyond the simple, basic repair and upkeep. You don't want to spend $60 million to $70 million and have people come and say, "Gee, what have they done?'" he said. "We need to have a project that is justifiable, that can bring additional revenue." The university and city representatives will "review the scenarios our consultant is preparing from the low end to the high end to determine the feasibility of the project," he said. "We want to keep UM in Miami, but, I know if that doesn't work, you'll probably have officials saying, "Oh, here's an opportunity,'" such as one to build a stadium for the Florida Marlins on the Orange Bowl site. "The university belongs in the Orange Bowl," he said. "But I have to be realistic and tell you that in the end, it will be a business decision."
SLIPPING INTO ACTION: The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce has added an Interstate 95 slip ramp to its advocacy list. The executive board passed a resolution this month calling for the City of Miami to educate residents and garner community support within 180 days for a ramp to allow traffic to move onto I-95 from Northwest Sixth Street and head west on State Road 836. "There's too many transportation projects for anyone to jump out in front without any community activity" unless the city were to build a baseball stadium downtown, said Ric Katz, chairman of the chamber's Downtown Transportation Taskforce. "That would probably guarantee the building of the slip ramp — but that's a hypothetical." The ramp could cost about $20 million, he said, and funding has yet to be identified. But the chamber suggests that the city seek it locally rather than federally.
GENERAL AGREEMENT: After more than two years, Miami has reached contract agreement with its general employees union, which makes up 30% of city staff, said City Manager Pete Hernandez. "Now when I come into this building, some people smile," he said. Contracts with the police and firefighters unions are outstanding, but he said he believes he will reach an agreement with sanitation workers, whose contract is also expired, within four to six weeks. Six years ago, the city's contribution to employee pension plans was $3 million. Now it's $79 million, making negotiations a delicate business. "The unions understand this very well," he said. "We're both looking for a solution that will maintain their benefits but, at the same time, be affordable for the city — a reasonable solution that has sustainability."
GREENING OF MIAMI: An audit of Miami's books will be ready the second week of April, city CFO Larry Spring said at last Thursday's city commission meeting. But already he knows "We have a strong balance. We have a half-billion-dollar operating budget and reserves of over $100 million," he said. "We are so well-reserved compared to our peers, I think Wall Street still sees us as a very viable, financially strong city." City administration will also meet with bond rating agencies next month, and, Mr. Spring said, "I fully expect to get an increase" in the city's bond rating, which he said is already only steps away from Triple A.
JOB JUMPSTART: The Southeast Overtown/ Park West community redevelopment agencies will grant Veterans Employment Transition Services Inc. up to $100,000 to create a hospitality institute job training and job pilot program in Overtown after a Monday vote by the board, made up of Miami city commissioners. The Camillus House will manage the funds, provide administrative support and match monies in kind with residential opportunities for participants, and Hilton Hotels will run the training program and job placement. "I think this is a great program," said Commissioner Tomás Regalado. "Now, with the possibility for a slowdown in construction, hospitality is the only way out. So the timing is good."
ASSETS APPRAISAL: Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, chairwoman of Southeast Overtown/ Park West and Omni community redevelopment agencies, has asked agency administration to reexamine the budget and potentially remove long-standing projects that are no longer priorities in order to redistribute funds to active or pending vital endeavors. "We need the money to be on the streets working for the communities that need them," she said Monday, "not sitting on a line-item budget."
MINORITY MARKS: The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce is to recognize 100 finalists and honor 11 local minority and women-owned businesses at 11:30 a.m. today (3/29) at its second annual Top 100 Minority Business Awards at the Radisson Hotel Miami, 1601 Biscayne Blvd.
BOOKISH BENEVOLENCE: Participants in the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce's Leadership Miami program, which develops budding business and civic leaders, will host a "storybook breakfast" for pediatric cancer patients from 9-11:30 a.m. today (3/29) at Holtz Children's Hospital's Hematology/Oncology Clinic, 1611 NW 12th Ave., to celebrate the launch of a book program for patients and families. Leadership Miami members have raised more than $2,000 to purchase children's books for the program.
TWO-WAY TALK: While no work has been done to turn Eighth Street into a two-way street west of Brickell Avenue, as the Downtown Development Authority is advocating, "it's on the radar screen," said Johnny Martinez, Florida Department of Transportation District Six secretary. The City of Miami will need to do an internal study, he said. Alice Bravo, state transportation department district planning and environmental management engineer, said the switch would require adding a lane rather than converting an existing one, as "that street right now is very congested." The city will need to determine, she said, "who it would impact and what the traffic ramifications would be."
MALAYSIAN MARKET: The Malaysia External Trade Development Corp., Malaysia's trade and investment entity, established an office in Miami-Dade County to serve the Southeast US, Latin America and the Caribbean. Within three years, the office plans to hire up to five full-time employees and occupy about 3,600 square feet of offices in the Enterprise Zone in the airport area. "The markets in the Western Hemisphere have grown increasingly important for the success of trade for Malaysia, and Miami provides an ideal platform to allow Malaysian trade to continue to grow," said Islahuddin Hassan, Miami office director, in a press release. "Miami-Dade itself is emerging as a vital commercial hub for companies throughout Asia."
ONCE AND FOR ALL: After 10 years since the school board deemed it unsafe, local contractors, City of Miami firefighters and Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff demolished the playground at Coconut Grove Elementary. The equipment's wood was tainted with arsenic, something a concerned parent informed Mr. Sarnoff of in recent weeks. "We refuse to move at the speed of government when our children's health, welfare and safety are at risk," he said in a press release. "We overcame 10 years of inertia in a matter of weeks."
INCOMING: The Florida Foreign Trade Association will host a delegation from the Dominican Republic next month for one-on-one "business matchmaking appointments" with US manufacturers, exporters, importers, wholesalers, distributors and investors at no cost to participants. The event will run from 2-4 p.m. April 23 and 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. April 24 at the Doubletree Hotel, 2649 S. Bayshore Drive. The organization's trade mission from El Salvador scheduled for March 25-30 has been postponed to May 20-25.
HURRICANE HAPPENINGS: William Proenza, National Hurricane Center director, and Tom Serio, director of global business continuity for Office Depot, are to deliver a 2007 hurricane season outlook to the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce at 8:30 a.m. April 10 at the chamber's Ray Goode-Ryder Conference Center at the Radisson Hotel Miami, 1601 Biscayne Blvd. The breakfast will feature a question-and-answer session. Details: (305)577-5432.
GREEN GABLES: Coral Gables is participating in a pilot program with SolarDiesel Corp. to test environmentally friendly biodiesel fuel in three city vehicles for 60 days. Should the trial go well, the city will consider using this clean-burning, alternative fuel in its municipal fleet. Biodiesel fuel reduces harmful chemical emissions and is considered one of the best greenhouse gas mitigation strategies for cars and trucks.
POLO CUP SPONSOR: Miami Beach Polo World Cup officials took an important step this week toward giving the third edition of the annual event national exposure. Organizers secured shipping company FedEx to be the title sponsor of this year's competition, scheduled for 2 p.m. April 13 at Collins Park between 20th and 22nd streets in Miami Beach. The agreement marks FedEx's first foray into polo sponsorship. Details: www.miamipolo.com
GRATIGNY WAREHOUSE DEAL: Higgins Development Partners agreed this week to lease a 978,164-square-foot warehouse and office building at The Centergate at Gratigny business park to Indianapolis-based Crossroads Transportation & Logistics. The long-term lease is the first transaction at the 74-acre business park Higgins acquired in August 2006. Terms weren't disclosed. Brokerage firm Fairchild Partners Inc. represented Higgins; ComReal Miami represented Crossroads.
GREAT PROMOTION: Three-year-old Great Florida Bank has created a new post, Miami-Dade County market president, and promoted Obdulio Piedra to the job. The 31-year South Florida banker will work to advance the bank's business development, officials say. Headquartered in Coral Gables, Great Florida has assets of $1.5 billion. Details: www.greatfloridabank.com.
MADE IN THE SHADE: Miami-Dade County commissioners should have gotten up and left any meetings closed to the public during a recent trip to Washington, DC, says Adria Harper, director of the Florida First Amendment Foundation. Just because the county's governing body travels to the nation's capital does not free it from obligations under Florida's Open Meetings Laws, she said. If it did, "everyone would be hopping the border," she said in an interview Monday. She cited a prior Florida attorney general's opinion that Washington gatherings of Florida's local elected officials must be open. County commissioners, she said, should have asked federal officials who insisted on closing meetings to cite a federal statute that prevails over Florida's Sunshine Law. Absent a prevailing statute, she said, commissioners should have departed the closed meeting. "That's what I would have done."
GROVE GETS CHILI'S: Coconut Grove's main retail center CocoWalk landed another major restaurant chain, Chili's, to join Cheesecake Factory and Hooters in the 200,000-square-foot complex at 3015 Grand Ave. Chili's leased 5,592 square feet on the third level, directly above Cheesecake Factory. Space buildout is to begin by May, with completion in September. Broker Colliers Abood Wood-Fay represented CocoWalk; American Banking Group Inc. negotiated on behalf of Chili's.
CORRECTION: A report last week on sustainable buildings misspelled the name of Aina Juliol of PGI Group.