Written by Miami Today on July 3, 2008
Miami is a weekly feature of Miami Today, keeping readers ahead
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FIGHTING FORECLOSURE: Miami-Dade County may begin buying and refurbishing foreclosed homes depending on the results of a requested report. With little discussion, the commission passed Tuesday a resolution directing Mayor Carlos Alvarez or his designee to develop within 60 days a plan to utilize federal grants or other funds to purchase the homes. Commissioner Rebeca Sosa stressed that, should the plan move forward, the county must work to protect buyers.
PANHANDLING METERS: Miami’s Downtown Development Authority is exploring the installation of panhandling meters, similar to parking meters, that would collect money for homeless programs and counteract the anti-panhandling ordinance proposed by the development authority. A Miami delegation that includes Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust members returns today (7/3) from Denver, where they went to meet with officials to "determine what efforts Denver made that reduced its panhandling incidence by 90%, which includes a program involving parking meters where people put money that is then distributed to homeless-assistance programs," said Jay Solowsky, Downtown Development Authority board member. The authority will look into the possible use of these devices.
DREDGE ON: The US House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee has approved a $10.3 million payment toward the $86 million-plus Miami River dredging. The federal funds are to reimburse other entities, such as the state, that fronted money for the project to ensure it be completed on time. In 2005, dredging faced completion-threatening delays due to funding gaps but recommenced in February. Assuming a $3 million request from the Florida Inland Navigational District comes in, the project is set to meet its April 2009 deadline.
PROJECT PROPOSALS: Any person or entity may submit unsolicited public works project proposals to Miami-Dade County after commissioners Tuesday gave the new plan for evaluating such proposals their OK. The idea is modeled after procedures followed by entities such as the state and the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, said José "Pepe" Diaz, who sponsored the legislation. It’s to apply to projects $15 million and above, officials said. Submitting a plan requires a $25,000 fee to cover the costs of evaluating the proposal, though some could be refunded depending on actual evaluation expenses. Commissioner Carlos Gimenez called the concept of public-private partnerships the way of the future and said "I think it will do a lot of good for Miami-Dade County."
DDA MOVING?: Miami’s Downtown Development Authority is exploring the feasibility of keeping its headquarters at the Wachovia Financial Center in downtown. The authority pays about $310,000 in annual rent, parking and insurance costs for the space. It may have to reconsider its lease expenses as county and city budgets are expected shrink this fiscal year. "We need to figure out whether to stay here or move somewhere else to save money," said Miami Commissioner Joe Sanchez, who also is authority chairman.
GARAGE LEASED: Plans to build a mixed-use parking facility at 120 NE Second St. are moving forward. The Miami Parking Authority, Archdiocese of Miami and Miami City Center LLC, which previously held the ground lease, signed a 50-year lease for the lot, said Rolando G. Tapanes, authority director of planning and development. The lease awaits the city attorney’s approval. The parking authority is meeting today (7/3) with the city’s zoning and building departments to review their preliminary layout for the project. Under lease agreement, the authority is responsible for funding construction of the garage and the shell of the building, while Miami City Center is to incur the costs of any retail and office space build, Mr. Tapanes said. The only condition placed by the Archdiocese is that tenants adhere to "faith-based restrictions," which excludes setting up abortion clinics, planned parenting centers or pornography-related businesses.
SIGN OFF: Miami’s Downtown Development Authority is stepping up to enforce its district’s signage code. The authority plans a campaign to educate property owners on the existing city code, which allows only for 20% of windows to be covered with signs. The educational campaign kicks off in late July, followed by a 45-day grace period. "The idea is not to punish people, but to educate them and help beautify downtown," said Alyce Robertson, interim authority director. Many area businesses violate the code, but until now received little reprimanding, she said. Once the grace period ends, Miami’s code enforcement authorities will begin fining stores not in compliance, she said. "We want to create an environment conducive to improving the overall pedestrian experience and retail environment."
NO MORE MURALS: Miami-Dade County Tuesday dropped its limit of legal outdoor advertising murals in Miami’s urban core from 45 to 35 to match the City of Miami’s new law. Some commissioners were wary of adjusting the limit, fearing the city would return to request more permits and re-open what has been recurring debate over the past year. "I just don’t want to deal with it again, to be honest with you," José "Pepe" Diaz said. "I would prefer just leaving it." Chairman Bruno Barreiro said the same. "I don’t think we should set the floor. We should set the roof on this." But the majority of the board followed Carlos Gimenez’s lead in limiting the number of murals to the city’s cap. Said Katy Sorenson, "Any time we decrease the number of signs is a good day."
COLOMBIANS EYE GABLES BUSINESS: A delegation of government officials and businesspeople from Barranquilla, Colombia, will make stops in Florida, including a July 10-11 visit to Coral Gables. The visit is part of the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce’s ongoing effort to foster business between Coral Gables and Latin America, said Ricardo Taño Feijoó, vice chair of the chamber’s International Affairs Committee. "It’s a commercial mission," he said, "an exchange of ideas of how… we can work with the region of the state of Atlantico and most specifically with Barranquilla."
MOVER MOVING: Plans for a Miami International Airport people mover are moving. Miami-Dade Commissioners agreed Tuesday that the team behind the airport’s major terminal reconstruction projects, Parsons-Odebrecht Joint Venture, is to design, construct, operate and maintain the $342 million MIA Mover. Negotiations with potential contractors lasted three years. "We need to move forward with the mover and get it done," Commissioner José "Pepe" Diaz said. The 1.25-mile elevated mover is designed to transport more than 3,000 passengers per hour between the airport and the Miami Intermodal Center. Sally Heyman, the only dissenter, questioned the county’s liability should anything go wrong. "Where’s the safeguards?" she asked. Aviation Director José Abreu said "the schedule is managed by them (the contractor), it’s designed by them… thou shalt do everything — this is what that contract says." He told commissioners "There is no such thing as risk-free in anything in life. This is as close as it gets." The county intends to bridge a $30 million funding gap for the project using a combination of annual state transportation department grants and potentially upping the facilities charge customers pay when renting a car.
PORT PACT: The Port of Miami landed its second major contract in recent weeks after Miami-Dade Commissioners approved Tuesday a deal teaming terminal operator AP Moller-Maersk with shipping line CMA CGM. The 15-year pact will mean an annual net increase of $4 million for the seaport, Port Director Bill Johnson said, and will, along with a new contract with Seaboard Marine, eliminate its $10 million operating deficit. Also, it will increase competition at the port by allowing the terminal to handle third party cargo, he said. Port of Miami Operating Co. fears the deal could mean the end of its 13-year operation at the port, as it is the only operator now serving third parties. CMA is its largest customer, making up about 30% of its volume. But encouraging competition is "the hallmark of what we’re trying to do," Mr. Johnson said. Commissioners raised concerns about effects on POMTOC but ultimately praised the deal with the caveat Mr. Johnson work with POMTOC to iron out its own new contract. "We will be abundantly fair, professional — and I assure you there’s a deal to be made," he said. Commissioner Carlos Gimenez told commissioners, "I don’t think we’re in the business of making sure people stay in business… we want to grow the business at the port."
PAMPERING AT A DISCOUNT: Twenty Miami Spas are offering discounted $99 treatments until the end of July as part of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau’s first Miami Spa Month. "They are the top spas in town," said Ginny Gutierrez, bureau director of community relations. The treatments, discounted by 50% or more from original prices, range from mojito-inspired body treatments to a 50-minute aromatherapy facial. Details: http://www.miamispamonth.com.
BOND BUDGETING: About $1 million from Miami-Dade County General Obligation Bonds is now to go toward repairing and replacing the fishing piers at Old William Powell Bridge in Key Biscayne after commissioners approved Tuesday without discussion a change to the bond program allocations. It had been allocated to replacing the Old Cutler Road Bridge, but Public Works Department staffers Old Cutler Road Bridge to be in good structural condition and recommended it be improved rather than replaced. Commissioners also approved a change to a Hialeah Gardens bond program project, agreeing to use the allocated $800,000 to purchase and furnish a mobile police command center rather than to construct a 2,000-square-foot center as planned. They deferred a move to allow the county’s Park & Recreation Department to use about $350,000 of $12 million in bond funds allocated for new trams at Miami Metrozoo.
TRANSPORTATION MOTIVATION: Public transportation systems in South Florida are to receive $36 million through the new Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act passed by the US House. The legislation authorizes $1.7 billion in grants for public transportation agencies to expand service routes, reduce fares or provide services such as additional parking in stations. Miami-Dade Transit faces a $20 million shortfall next year and could instate rate hikes depending on county commission action. South Florida’s Tri-Rail escaped service-threatening cuts this year but is seeing record numbers of riders and seeks dedicated funding for the future.
BRAZIL AS A GLOBAL PLAYER: The Latin American and Caribbean Center and the Summit of the Americas Center at Florida International University are to this month present "Brazil’s Increasing Role as a Global Player: Brazil and Latin America in an Age of Changing Energy and Environmental Global Policies." Brazil native Floriano Filho, a television journalist and Fulbright/American Political Science Association Congressional Senior Fellow with US Rep. Brian Baird’s office, is to give the lecture from 1-2:30 p.m. July 22 in the Green Library.