MORE $ FOR SOUTHCOM HQ: US Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart said an additional $81.6 million has been secured for the new Southern Command headquarters in the City of Doral. "I am pleased to have helped include this second installment in the FY2009 Defense Authorization Bill," the Florida Republican said in a media statement. The 2008 defense bill authorized $100 million for the $273 million headquarters. It will rise on 55 state-owned acres next to the current one at 3511 NW 91st Ave., consolidating an array of facilities where 1,200 military, civilians and defense contractors work. Completion is slated for 2011. SouthCom, one of five unified commands in the Department of Defense, is responsible for Central and South America and the Caribbean.
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VOTER CAMPAIGN LAUNCHED: Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Lester Sola has started a media campaign to inform voters about the county's new voting system, including options — such as absentee, early and election day voting — as the Aug. 26 and Nov. 4 elections near. The effort, which started May 23, involves radio, print, TV, internet and outdoor advertising. "Our goal is to make voting in the upcoming 2008 elections as convenient and simple as possible for everyone," Mr. Sola said in a statement. Voters will use the new paper-based optical scanners, but persons with disabilities could opt to use touch-screen models, the elections department said.
RIVER RUSE: Though Miami commissioners voted this month to remove the word "port" from the river element of the city's comprehensive land-use plan, the city still hopes for a slice of the pie when it comes to federal port security grants related to the river, said Fran Bohnsack, executive director of the Miami River Marine Group. The grant program backs security measures at ports and in the past has funded boats for Miami's marine patrol. The day after the decision to eliminate the port designation, a city representative turned up at a meeting about the $2.9 million in grants available to the river and the Port of Miami to see what may be coming Miami's way. Ms. Bohnsack said, tongue in cheek, "the City of Miami has no port, so I don't think they qualify." The city really could receive some of the money, she said, but "I was astounded by their nerve."
NOTHING TO PROVE: A Miami Beach gallery designed to give a taste of what's to come with a planned luxury Watson Island development is not meant to prove anything to anyone, the developer says. "People are by nature very visual. They like to see things," said Mehmet Bayraktar, chairman and chief executive officer of Flagstone Property Group, at the Island Gardens gallery opening. "We've been preparing all of this work for years; now it's about to be getting visual." Miami commissioners last month questioned whether the development would ever be built. Opening the gallery last week was not a move to pacify them. "This is not to prove," Mr. Bayraktar said. "This is just the process." He says project funding is in place — "we have everything lined up" — though he could not announce bank backings or new investors. ING Clarion Partners agreed last year to invest along with Flagstone about $600 million in the project. "This is a huge development," Mr. Bayraktar said. "It's a lot of background work, behind the scenes. The curtain will be coming up soon."
SUBLEASE SET: The Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority is to lease Bicentennial Park land from the City of Miami in order to sublease it to planned new art and science museums after commissioners approved the non-binding arrangement last week. Some have come out against it, saying it circumvents a public referendum. Commission Chair Joe Sanchez did not open a public hearing to discuss the item, ensuring "there will be plenty of public participation" in approving subsequent contracts needed to establish the museums in the park. Commissioner Tomás Regalado voted against the plan, lamenting that the city is not requiring museum perks for city residents, such as discounted admission. It did with the Miami Children's Museum on Watson Island, also a lessee of the sports and exhibition authority, he said. Miami residents are giving free land and paying taxes on city and Miami-Dade county bonds, he said, "and yet we don't get a single benefit. To me, that's wrong."
READY TO GO: The city doesn't have to worry about whether the Miami Art Museum will come through financially and build, said Director Terence Riley at the Miami Commission meeting last week. "If we had the plans ready today, we could break ground and finish the project." He said the museum has exceeded the $40 million in pledges and $8 million in cash the city is requiring.
MIDTOWN MONEY: The developers of Midtown Miami are to cash in early on redevelopment agency funds earmarked for payments on the $73.6 million bond used to finance the project's garage. The project has not quite hit its required 90% occupancy, but "although the goals were slightly missed, they were really only slightly missed," said attorney Neisen Kasdin, pointing to the thriving shopping center's success in creating 1,500 local jobs — "a tremendous accomplishment," he said. Miami commissioners agreed, voting to allow the money to be released. The Midtown Community Redevelopment Agency, created solely to pay off the bond, has about $1.3 million now.
KUBIK KONFUSION: Whether the planned Morningside project Kubik will ever be built remains a mystery. After hours of hearing, the four city commissioners in attendance last week could not break a 2-2 stalemate, with Marc Sarnoff and Tomás Regalado voting to limit the mixed-use project to 35 feet, Angel Gonzalez and Joe Sanchez dissenting. Mr. Sarnoff reluctantly agreed to continue the vote to another meeting when tiebreaker Michelle Spence-Jones is present. The project was approved in 2004 and again in 2006. Circuit Court sent it back to the city for a new hearing after residents sued because of the size. Commissioners have since deferred the item several times.
BANKRUPTCY READY: The Bayfront Park Management Trust is to enlist attorney Jordi Gusto and the Berger Singerman law firm to help with bankruptcy proceedings now that the company that owns the SkyLift balloon has filed for reorganization. SkyLift defaulted on about $103,000 in payments to the trust before filing for Chapter 11.
In order to terminate its contract and repossess the land, the trust needs legal help, said Tim Schmand, executive director. "They haven't gotten back to us with any reorganization information yet," he told city commissioners, who agreed to allow the outside legal counsel last week.
GROCERY GO AHEAD: Milam's Market in Coconut Grove can now expand after Miami commissioners last week gave formally approved allowing grocery stores in certain commercial districts of Coconut Grove abutting US 1 to be 40,000 square feet without special permission or a public hearing.
WYNWOOD ARTS DISTRICT: Wynwood now boasts an arts district. Miami commissioners voted last week to create it by eliminating city distance requirements for liquor licenses to allow 15 nightclubs, restaurants, coffee shops and bars to "benefit from close proximity to one another" within the district. The Miami Modern district along Biscayne Boulevard expressed interest in setting up a similar arrangement. Commissioner Joe Sanchez lauded the success of Viernes Culturales/Cultural Fridays on Calle Ocho and wished Wynwood the same.
UNDECIDED: Miami commissioners are to decide the fate of the proposed mixed-use 888 Brickell project next month after discussing last week whether to allow setback variances but reaching no conclusion. The city's planning department recommended denying the setback requests. The zoning board approved them. Marc Sarnoff, whose district includes Brickell, said he's tempted to grant them but will reserve a vote until June. The project would be comprised of a 31-story mixed-use building of 29 live/work units, about 3,018 square feet of retail, about 164,001 square feet of offices and a 3,214-square-foot child daycare center. "This is Brickell… this is where the height and density belong," Mr. Sarnoff said.
ENDANGERED: Vizcaya Museum and Gardens has been named to the National Trust for Historic Preservation's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list because of what the trust called a planned high-rise's threats to its signature views. "Unless development is blocked or an intervention occurs, this cultural landscape will be permanently damaged by the construction of three high-rise condominium towers within Vizcaya's historic viewshed," the trust says. "The introduction of these out-of-scale buildings and the corresponding zoning and land use changes they would require threaten to open the door for more high-rise construction even closer to Vizcaya on adjacent lands." A Miami-Dade Circuit Court appellate panel recently voted to overturn Miami commissioners' decision to allow the Related Group project, but the developer could appeal.
TIE-UPS WASTING FUEL: Traffic tie-ups in the Miami area waste more than 108 million gallons of fuel a year and release 1 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to a study by Illinois-based Portland Cement Association. The association says traffic delays drain more than $3.1 billion from the Miami economy in wasted time and higher transportation costs. It gets worse. By 2032, Miami drivers will waste 156 million gallons idling in traffic jams, releasing 1.4 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, experts estimate. The economic impact would jump to $4.5 billion a year. The economic impact to the country is estimated at $80 billion annually. The association represents cement companies in the US and Canada.
COSTCO GROWS: A new, feature-packed Costco is to open at 8 a.m. Friday at 13450 SW 120th St., two miles south of the original warehouse, Costco's Kendall home since 1988. The facility is 150,000 square feet, 35% larger than the original site's 117,000. Added are a gas station, pharmacy, hearing-aid center, gourmet deli, one-hour photo, food court and optical department with a doctor of optometry. There will be more parking and an expanded tire center. Costco caters to small- and mid-sized businesses seeking discounted items for resale or business supplies, plus groceries and electronics for personal use. Customers need a monthly membership.
BROWARD RETAIL THINS: Retailers are moving out as rent rises, according to data released Tuesday by Terranova Corp., a commercial real estate advisory firm. Rent at shopping centers in Broward County rose 6% from spring 2007 to spring 2008, the company said. Occupancy also fell to 5.46% from 7.44% last year as chains downsized, including RagShops, 99 Cent Stuff, CompUSA, Pier One Kids and Bombay Co. Other Broward spaces opened up as smaller local tenants closed and national chains like Hollywood Video, Curves and Quizno's cut locations, Terranova said.