Written by Miami Today on June 19, 2008
Miami is a weekly feature of Miami Today, keeping readers ahead
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4-DAY WORKWEEK: Miami’s city commission is exploring four-day weeks for some employees to reduce energy consumption and give employees a gas break. Other local governments, including Miami-Dade County and the City of Hollywood, are considering this money-saving option in response to budget cuts. City Manager Pete Hernandez said the first step is to determine which city entities could qualify and how feasible is it for departments such as zoning and planning to close one day a week. He said he’d report to the budget committee potential savings of a four-day workweek.
GLOBAL AGREEMENT HURDLE: To alleviate public doubt on legality of a $3 billion capital projects agreement, Miami City Attorney Julie O. Bru recommended last week that the City Commission revote on the plan. Commissioners let the suggestion pass without action. The city and county face a July 1 court date on auto dealer Norman Braman’s lawsuit to knock down the global agreement. The commission’s hasty approval of the pocket item in December raised questions among voters and media about possible irregularities. The agreement bundled together construction of a baseball stadium, a port tunnel, a downtown trolley system, money to prepare Bicentennial Park for arts and science museums and more.
PRIVATIZE TRANSIT?: In the face of escalating transit costs and planned projects that could be left unfunded, two Miami-Dade commissioners this week raised the idea of privatizing the transit system. Commissioner José "Pepe" Diaz suggested issuing requests for proposals "for the things we cannot financially handle right now." In a recent memo and at the commission meeting Tuesday, Javier D. Souto pressed privatizing some routes. With the county providing all public transportation, he said, "this is a monopoly."
EXPEDITING AT THE AIRPORT: After appearing before the Miami-Dade commission again and again to present change orders and modify contract terms for documents related to developing the new Miami International Airport North Terminal, Aviation Director José Abreu now has the authority to execute such tweaks without prior approval. After assuming the contracts from American Airlines, the county has had to make numerous adjustments, he said, and waiting for them to come before commissioners could cause setbacks. "Time is money," he said. About 1,100 people are working on the project daily, he added, including weekends. Construction runs about $40 million a month.
TRAFFIC JAM: A move to think outside the box to generate new transit revenues hit a traffic jam last week at a county transit committee meeting. Commissioner Dorrin Rolle proposed permitting consumption of food and beverages on transit station platforms. That would allow the county to place vending machines there. It’s proved to be a money-maker in Atlanta and Chicago, he said. Though commissioners initially approved last month, Sally Heyman and Katy Sorenson last week questioned whether the expected new revenue would cancel out potential added costs for security and clean-up. Transit officials said the vending program would be an up-to-one-year trial to assess such factors. The assurances placated those who initially doubted the plan, but Mr. Rolle insisted that, after the lengthy and at times contentious discussion, the proposal be deferred.
CLINTON ON ENERGY: Former President Bill Clinton will speak Sunday at the US Conference of Mayors at the InterContinental Miami Hotel, 100 Chopin Plaza. He is scheduled during a session dealing with the Mayors’ Energy Block Grant, a $2 billion initiative approved by Congress to help cities increase energy efficiency programs and local efforts to reduce global warming. Mr. Clinton will be joined by Toronto Mayor David Miller, chairman of C40 Large Cities/Climate Leadership.
CITY GETS HEFTY LOAN: Miami’s City Commission approved a $27.5 million low-interest loan from the Sunshine State Governmental Financing Commission to help support property improvement projects. "The purpose of the loan is to make sure the city completes the many projects it has promised taxpayers under the capital improvement program," said Larry Spring, city CFO. The program was set up in 2002 to coordinate capital improvements in the city. It covers about 500 projects such as new parks and roadway improvements ranging from $5,000 to $68,000 million in costs, said Ola O. Aluko, program director. The loan will fill funding gaps for projects that surpassed initial cost estimates. The loan’s interest is to be paid monthly starting in August.
MIAMI GOES GREEN: Miami commissioners made a green commitment by voting unanimously in favor of three carbon footprint-reducing initiatives. The city agreed to buy fuel-efficient vehicles and possibly some hybrids for its fleet to reduce its fuel consumption by 5%. The commission passed a second agreement to improve the air quality, land conservation and wildlife preservation in the city and created the Greenspace Management Fund to fund it. The third initiative is to make environmentally-friendly and sustainable purchases of goods and services.
ARTS CENTER ROLES: Six new members have been added to the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County’s Trust Board of Directors. They are Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower, Alan Fein, state Rep. Dan Gelber, Sergio M. Gonzalez, Adriana Sabino and Carole Ann Taylor. Mr. Fein is with Stearns Weaver Miller Weissler Alhadeff & Sitterson law firm; Mr. Gonzalez is senior vice president for university advancement and external affairs at the University of Miami; Ms. Sabino is founder of Brazil-USA Cultural Center of Florida, a non-profit dedicated to Brazilian culture in South Florida, and Ms. Taylor is owner of the retail stores Little Havana To Go and Miami To Go in Little Havana and at Miami International Airport.
PRESIDENT TO HONOR SHALALA: University of Miami President Donna E. Shalala is to be presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom today (6/19) by President George W. Bush at a White House Ceremony. The Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civilian award.
AIRPORT ART: Iconic murals that have adorned the walls of John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York for nearly 50 years are headed for Miami. Brazilian artist Carybé’s "Rejoicing and Festival of the Americas" and "The Discovery of the West," both 16.5 feet by 53 feet, are to be installed in the Miami International Airport’s South Terminal as early as 2009, when restoration of the award-winning pieces is to be completed. American Airlines is to donate the works to Miami-Dade County. Odebrecht Construction Inc., the company behind the airport’s recent and ongoing terminal construction projects, is to fund the art’s restoration.
ITALIAN HONORS: Two Miamians were presented with a top Italian honor by Marco Rocca, consul general of Italy to Miami, on June 11. The title of Cavaliere Ufficiale, an order of merit of the Republic of Italy, was given to developer Ugo Colombo and Arthur J. Furia, a shareholder with Gunster Yoakley. The award is bestowed by the president of Italy and is among the highest awards presented by the Italian government.
GOING STRONG: American Airlines’ business out of Miami International Airport is going strong, officials reported at a meeting of Miami-Dade County’s airport and tourism committee last week. Last month, American scheduled 496,528 departing seats from Miami to the Caribbean and Latin America, up from 470,969 the same time last year. Trips out of San Juan lagged at 112,999. The airline scheduled 694,340 domestic seats departing from Miami. Miami International serves 33.6% of passengers on all carriers headed from the US to Latin America and the Caribbean.
TALKING TRANSPORTATION: Miami-Dade’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, responsible for transportation planning in Miami-Dade County, is updating its Long Range Transportation Plan and seeking suggestions and comments. The plan is meant to guide federal, state and local transportation expenditures until 2035 and covers highway, transit, bicycle, pedestrian and other methods of alleviating traffic congestion. It’s designed to identify transportation system needs and suggest projects to help solve them. Public meetings are to be held several evenings between June 24 and July 17 in various areas. Details: (305) 375-4507, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.miamidade.gov/mpo.
WEBCAST FRIENDLY: The public can now watch Miami City Commission meetings live on the Web and to catch reruns if they miss the premiers. The new system allows users to retrieve past meeting videos and view them at their convenience. The city has partnered with Granicus Inc. to provide the improved Web streaming and archiving services, which are to cost the city $19,000 a year for maintenance, said Manny Otero, city Web administrator. With the new system, recorded meeting videos and the agenda are viewed side-by-side and all items are searchable, he said. The new features are only available for commission meetings. Details: http://videos.miamigov.com
DEBATE TURNS POLITICAL: A pension plan for executive-level employees presented to the Miami City Commission last week got a divisive response from commissioners. The plan would allow high-paid employees to transfer from 401(K) retirement savings to the city’s more-rewarding pension and retirement plan. Pension switch costs could range from $250,000 to $900,000, depending on how many qualifying employees decide to join. Commissioners Michelle Spence-Jones and Angel Gonzalez supported the plan. Ms. Spence-Jones said it would reward employees’ dedication to the city. But Marc Sarnoff and Tomás Regalado disagreed, saying the proposal would pile on expenses at a time Miami is looking at cutbacks. "I can’t avoid to say what I feel. I hate to see the politics of the leftists who attack people that work for government," Mr. Gonzalez said. No action was taken. The commission decided to reconsider the item once budget discussions begin.
GOING WEST: Brian Collins, who came to Miami to develop the Four Seasons Hotel & Tower on Brickell Avenue, has been named president of Intrawest. The Vancouver-based company has interests in 10 resorts in US mountain destinations, what it calls the largest heli-skiing operation in the world in Canada, Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort near Destin in the Florida Panhandle, and Club Intrawest, with locations throughout North America. He will be responsible for the company’s global real estate operations. Mr. Collins most recently was principal and founder of Colgate Development LLC. Previously, he was a principal and chief operating officer of Millennium Partners, which developed the Four Seasons.
NOTE-WORTHY GROVE ADDITION: European-based Crazy Pianos, touted as the number-one piano bar in sales worldwide, is to invest almost $3 million in refurbishing and expanding the CocoWalk space that until recently was home to Café Tu Tu Tango. The Coconut Grove location, to open in October, is to be the dueling piano bar and late-night concert venue’s first foray into the US. The move will take the space from 6,000 square feet to 7,000. CocoWalk and the Grove’s commercial center have faced recent troubles in recruiting and retaining retailers. Crazy Pianos, the most recently announced addition, is to be open to all for lunch and dinner and offer a menu featuring French-American cuisine. Only those 21 and over will be permitted after 10 p.m. The company, with locations in the Netherlands and Spain, is planning a global expansion that includes London, Dubai, Paris, San Francisco and New York City.
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