PORT PROGRESS: A selection committee was to meet Wednesday (5/2) to choose a company to build and operate a tunnel connecting the Port of Miami to Interstate 395. A tunnel, proponents say, would ease traffic by keeping port-related trucks and busses off the main roads. The company chosen to undertake the $1 billion-plus project is to sign a contract with the Florida Department of Transportation within two months.
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SETBACK FOR BEAUTY: Political correctness came to the forefront with Miami-Dade commissioners' rejection of a request to help fund the Miss Florida Pageant that took place last July. At the urging of Commissioner Katy Sorenson on April 24, commissioners declined a request from the Miss Florida Scholarship Pageant Organization for donations of in-kind county services and fee waivers up to $10,359. "It's not a scholarship pageant, it's a beauty pageant," Ms. Sorenson said. "You can't achieve the scholarship unless you're physically beautiful. I would hate to see the board approve the fee waiver for something that sets women back." The Miss Florida Pageant is a preliminary contest for the Miss America Pageant.
PAYING FOR GROWTH: The last days of this year's legislative session have left Miami-Dade commissioners concerned about an erosion of the county's ability to force developers to help pay for accommodating growth. Commissioner Katy Sorenson, having just returned from a late-April trip to the Capitol, said legislators want to help free developers from having to help pay the cost of meeting concurrency rules, regulations that require infrastructure such as roads, utilities, public safety and schools to be concurrent with growth. Legislators, Ms. Sorenson said, "want to reduce our ability to levy impact fees. As it is, the county has a $6 billion backlog of infrastructure needs. I don't know when we'd ever catch up" if more of the costs of managing growth is put onto the county.
LEFT IN THE DARK: Miami-Dade commissioners are wondering whether they are getting the whole picture from the lobbyists they've hired to work the Florida legislative session. The prominence of the property-tax relief issue may be responsible, said Commissioner Rebeca Sosa. "The property-tax debate has overshadowed other things affecting Miami-Dade, and we've been left unaware," she said, referring to legislation relating to responsibilities for growth-management costs. Chairman Bruno Barreiro suggested commissioners have to do their part to stay informed on legislative issues. They "need to do their own homework," he said, advising them to participate in organizations and groups that focus on various issues.
SHINING ON: If legislators decide to weaken Florida's open-meetings law, they'll do it without prodding from Miami-Dade commissioners. The commission shot down a resolution April 24 by Chairman Bruno Barreiro seeking to free governing boards with more than 12 members from a prohibition on private meetings of two members. Miami-Dade's commission has 13 members. Mr. Barreiro said change in the Sunshine Law would help local governments get more work done. It's a "way to create consensus," he said. Commissioner José "Pepe" Diaz agreed: "This is not about hiding — it's about trying to move things forward." Commissioners Dennis Moss and Katy Sorenson say working in the open helps prevent elected officials from inflicting grief upon themselves. "Sometimes the Sunshine Law saves us from ourselves," Mr. Moss said. Commissioner Joe Martinez said he thinks the meeting restriction needs to be lifted but added, "Let's let the boys and girls up there [in Tallahassee] do it."
SUN SHINES BEYOND FLORIDA: Mr. Barreiro likes to say Florida is the only state that forces local governments to meet openly. That's hardly the case, according to Adrian Harper, director of the Florida First Amendment Foundation. They may not call them sunshine laws as Florida does, but almost every state imposes open-meetings requirements and other transparency rules on elected bodies, she said in an interview last week. "It doesn't matter to me what they call it," she said, though she acknowledged Florida's open-meetings rules are among the nation's broadest. She said Florida's Sunshine Law fared well in the legislative session, though she noted the usual influx of requests for exemptions from open records and meetings. Of Mr. Barreiro's proposal, she said, "I hope they won't be lobbying for it next year."
METRORAIL MILESTONE: Plans to expand Miami-Dade Transit's Metrorail north along Northwest 27th Avenue to Broward County with stops at Calder Race Course, Dolphin Stadium and Miami Dade College North Campus won a major victory last week. As commissioners convened April 24, they learned that the Federal Transit Administration's review of the expansion had concluded that it met all requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act. The federal decision clears the way to obtain rights of way, relocate utilities and advance the project's design, Transit Department officials say. Under a joint-partnership agreement with the Florida Department of Transportation, the county is in line to receive $108 million from the state for engineering services. County officials say they need the money right away to get the engineering work started.
CHAVEZ LOOMS LARGE: Everyone has something that keeps them up at night. For Miami-Dade Commissioner Javier Souto, it's the prospect of seeing a giant picture of leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez staring down at him from a downtown building. The Cuban-American commissioner raised concerns during a discussion last Thursday of an ordinance regulating giant mural advertisements downtown. "Can Chavez buy one of those positions? Mr. Souto asked, referring to the 30 permits the ordinance says can be issued. Mr. Souto speculated Mr. Chavez would try such a stunt because he has the money to do it and a knack for rubbing raw nerves. "Miami-Dade County is the bastion of all the things these people don't like — such as democracy and human rights" and would be an ideal place for the controversial leader to make a publicity play, Mr. Souto said. If so, there's not much the county can do, said Craig Coller, assistant county attorney. "Unfortunately," he advised, "we're not allowed to control the message" on the giant murals.
DEPARTING DEAN: Just after revealing that there was thought to moving the University of Miami School of Law from Coral Gables to downtown Miami, Dennis Lynch has announced he will resign as dean in 2008. He will oversee expansion plans during the coming school year, he said, and will then return to the classroom after a nine-month sabbatical. The typical tenure for law-school deanship is eight years, Mr. Lynch said, and resigning after nine to rejoin the teaching faculty is "something I've been thinking about for awhile. I want to have time to teach."
ZOO ADIEU: Glenn Ekey, president and CEO of the Zoological Society of Florida for 15 years, has resigned. "It's time for me to move on and perhaps let someone else come in with different ideas and different approaches," Mr. Ekey said. He does not know where he is headed nor does the society know who will replace him, said Chairman David Konfino. Until a committee selects a new president, he said, current staff will run day-to-day operations and MetroZoo expansion will continue. The 27-acre Amazon and Beyond exhibition is to open in November 2008.
AGENCY ACCOUNTABILITY: To better oversee its grants, Miami Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones says the Southeast Overtown/Park West and Omni Redevelopment Agencies, of which she is chairwoman, "should get a final report from anybody we give money to." Her fellow city commissioners, who make up the redevelopment agencies' boards, agreed at a meeting Monday. She suggested the written reports after hearing oral reports from grant recipients.
HOMELESS HELP: The Southeast Overtown/Park West and Omni Redevelopment Agencies' board, made up of Miami city commissioners, voted Monday to grant the Camillus House $117,900 to build a roof over a former parking lot now used to shelter homeless. "We need to contain and protect at the same time that population," Commissioner Tomás Regalado said. "This is a first step to the new facility" the Camillus House is planning, he said.
AGENCY ADVERTISING: Two local marketing agencies, Creative Ideas Advertising and Anthony Baradat & Associates, have answered the Southeast Overtown/Park West and Omni Redevelopment Agencies' call for firms to help market themselves to the community. The agencies' administration is reviewing the firms' qualifications and proposals. "I think the decision to have a group working for people to understand what the CRAs are doing is a good decision," said Miami Commissioner Tomás Regalado, who will oversee the effort to choose a firm. "This is a unique area because you need to market and promote two areas that are different. You have many things to promote, many issues to clarify."
KUBIK SELLS SPACE: A Miami developer says it has secured buyers for more than half of the 41,745 square feet of commercial space in the $132 million mixed-use Kubik in the city's Upper East Side. Moving into the complex for $545 per square foot are Caribbean restaurant The Kasbah and interior design firm Tizhan Bazaar. Lab Group Developers is building the 5700 Biscayne Blvd. complex, which features 300 loft-style residences priced from $300,000 to $2.5 million. Details: www.kubikspace.com.
FRENCH BANK DEAL: French corporate and investment banking firm Calyon this week bought the private banking operations of Credit Lyonnais Miami and will move into the company's office at 601 Brickell Key Dr. The company, with the name Credit Argicole Miami Private Bank, is to continue the Crédit Agricole Group's presence in Latin America and provide the same asset-management services, Calyon officials say. The group's private banking operations include more than $110 billion of customer assets and more than 2,000 employees in Miami and throughout Europe. Details: (212) 261-7129.
CHAMBER NETS EX-NBA PLAYER: Former National Basketball Association player John Amaechi is to be commencement speaker at the opening session of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce International Business and Leadership Conference in Miami. He's to reflect on his experiences as a gay professional basketball player and draw parallels to business success in his opening remarks May 31. The three-day conference, Out for Business, is to take place at the Hyatt Regency Miami. Details: www.gogaymiami.com.
WE'RE STILL NO. 2: The Miami hotel market remains second in the nation for occupancy and average daily room rates, according to Smith Travel Research. Miami finished behind only Phoenix with 79.8% occupancy and trailed New York with an average daily room rate of $199.86 for the first three months of this year. The area's hotels were in second in both lists in Smith's previous quarterly report.
DOLPHIN PLAZA SOLD: Urban redevelopment company UrbanAmerica this week sold Dolphin Plaza in Miami Gardens to local developer William Green for $8 million. The New York company bought the shopping center for $5 million in 2003, and its renovation and marketing efforts have increased occupancy from 76% to 99%. UrbanAmerica buys and develops retail centers in economically deprived areas and brings in retailers that serve the community. "Dolphin Plaza is certainly a success story," said Richmond McCoy, CEO of UrbanAmerica. "The revitalization has helped the entire area. We've now sold it to a minority developer from the neighborhood, thereby keeping the plaza in local hands." Details: (305) 696-2320.
PEACEFUL PARTNERS: Despite malfunctions with Ziff Ballet Opera House stage wagons, the Florida Grand Opera is happy with its partnership with the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts, said opera spokeswoman Erin Charlton. "We are partners with the Carnival Center," Ms. Charlton said. Issues have been resolved, said Suzette Espinosa, Carnival Center spokeswoman, "and the wagons are in working order."
CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION: The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce has scheduled its Centennial Celebration for 6-8 p.m. Wednesday (5/9) at Miami Seaquarium, 4400 Rickenbacker Causeway. Guests will have a chance to see the Seaquarium's new Dolphin Harbor. Reservations are required by Friday. Details: www.miamichamber.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
ATTORNEY ASSEMBLY: The Managing Partner Forum is to host its Florida Forum on May 10 at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Airport Hotel to give lawyers a chance to share best practices, learn new ideas and benchmark their firms' performances against their Florida peers. The event is to attract more than 75 managing partners from across the state. Details: Lauren Barker, (202) 973-1342 or email@example.com.
LATE LUNCHEON: The Red Cross Ball Committee Luncheon has been moved from today (5/3) to June 6, with further details to be announced. Bill Ussery Motors is to donate a 2008 Mercedes-Benz CLK Cabriolet, to be unveiled at the luncheon. Details: Denie Freyer, (305) 799-2900 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SHE MEANS BUSINESS: University of Miami officials have appointed Barbara Kahn dean of the School of Business Administration to replace Paul Sugrue after his 15 years as dean and 30 as faculty member. Ms. Kahn is a marketing professor, a vice dean and director of the undergraduate division at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, which has been ranked the best undergraduate business program by US News & World Report and Business Week. Ms. Kahn is to begin her position at UM on Aug. 1.
CULTURAL CONTRIBUTIONS: Japan's government last week honored Steven Heine, director of Florida International University's Institute for Asian Studies, with the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette award. The award recognizes his contribution to advancing the study of Japanese culture and promoting an understanding of Japan. The consulate general of Japan in Miami, Hiroshi Yamaguchi, is to present the award on behalf of the emperor of Japan in an upcoming ceremony.
GET STARTED: The Florida Foreign Trade Association School of Business is to offer a workshop on setting up and operating a new company in Florida. The seminar is set for 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. May 8 at Miami Free Zone, 2305 NW 107th Ave. Participation fee is $150, including a continental breakfast and light lunch. RSVP: (305) 471-0737 by Friday.