Written by Miami Today on August 21, 2008
Miami is a weekly feature of Miami Today, keeping readers ahead
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BUDGET BREWING: Tropical Storm Fay washed out plans for a meeting of Miami-Dade County’s Budget and Finance Committee this week. It was to have been Aug. 19. A new date has yet to be announced. However, a revenue estimating conference is to be held at 11 a.m. Aug. 26 at the Stephen P. Clark Center, 111 NW First St., 22nd floor. Commissioners — who reconvene from their August recess Sept. 2 — must set the fiscal 2008-09 budget next month. The first budget hearing is set for 5 p.m. Sept. 4 in the commission chambers at the downtown Clark Center. The fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
CULTURAL COMMITTEES: Several Miami-Dade cultural organizations are to meet in coming days: the Performing Arts Center Trust’s executive committee is to meet 8:30 a.m. Aug. 25 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd.; The Cultural Affairs Council, advisory board to the county’s Department of Cultural Affairs, is to meet at noon Aug. 27 at the Stephen P. Clark Center, 111 NW First St., sixth floor conference room; and the Vizcaya Trust’s executive committee is to meet at 9 a.m. Aug. 29 at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, 3250 S Miami Ave.
AIRPORT OPPORTUNITY: Investors and developers can now begin submitting proposals to the Miami-Dade Aviation Department for four sites totaling about 36 acres at Miami International Airport’s main entrance, known as Central Boulevard. The land is available to developers to finance, design, construct, renovate, manage or operate facilities there. Potential investors have called one 25-acre parcel an ideal site for a conference center, hotel, retail and office complex. An 8-acre site is designated for a retail service plaza. A 3-acre parcel is designated for hotel development. The last parcel is the existing in-terminal hotel site, which could also include three floors of adjoining office space currently occupied by the aviation department. Proposals are due by 5 p.m. Oct. 15. Details: www.miami-airport.com/html/business’opportunities.html.
ECONOMIC EFFECTS: Miami-Dade County’s unemployment rate decreased two-tenths of a percentage point between June and July, reaching 5.4 % last month. Still, the number represents a 1.3 percentage point increase from July 2007. Non-agricultural companies in Miami-Dade County lost 3,900 jobs between last July and this, a decrease of .4%. Construction jobs decreased by 15.5%, and retail trade employment decreased by 1.8% during the same period. Some sectors are seeing positive growth, however. Hospital employment rose by 8.2% between last July and this.
WARM-WEATHER WORKING: The leisure and hospitality industry in Miami-Dade continues its record employment level with increases in June. An average of 102,400 people were employed in June, up from 100,500 during June 2007, an increase of 1.9%.
FORECLOSURE HOTLINE: Miami has received requests for aid and information on foreclosures and other realty concerns, but the City Attorney’s Office can’t advise the public, said City Attorney Julie Bru in an e-mail to city officials. The office is providing a list of available pro bono legal help. Residents are asked to first contact the hotline (866) 607-2187 set up by the Florida Legal Services and Florida Bar Association. Representatives help homeowners determine the most-appropriate free attorney to handle their case. The attorneys then take over negotiations with lenders to keep homes from going into foreclosure. More than 10,000 Florida attorneys volunteer in the program.
DDA LEARNS MIAMI 21: Miami’s Downtown Development Authority is to hold a workshop at 3 p.m. Sept. 8 in its 29th floor offices at Wachovia Financial Center with staffers and local business owners to learn more from city planning staff about Miami 21, the city’s proposed zoning code. City Commissioner Joe Sanchez, chairman of the authority board, said it’s important that the authority get familiar with the proposed code. Meredith J. Nation, interim deputy director, said the meeting is to help them "understand how Miami 21 will affect downtown."
AUTHORITY MOVES FUNDS: The Downtown Development Authority switched its money to more-protected checking accounts, said Meredith J. Nation, interim deputy director. She said the money is now in "government advantage interest" checking accounts, a Florida public fund product where the first $100,000 is protected by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the state covers the balance. The move was made "to help protect its (DDA) investments from the ill-effects of the financial markets," she said. The authority finance committee is to meet in September to review whether additional changes in banking are required.
BOAT CLEANUP SET: Miami’s vessel cleanup has been rescheduled to Sept. 2, said Daniel Newhoff, assistant director of public facilities. The winning bidder for Operation Baywash, a five-day cleanup to rid city waters of sunken, derelict or abandoned boats, needed more time to mobilize, he said. The city hopes to pluck about 40 boats. Operation Bay Wash started three years ago. Typically the cleanups are scheduled annually because it’s more economical to remove vessels in clusters. In search of a permanent solution to the recurring problem, the city plans a mooring field at Dinner Key Marina that should be completed by February.
RELIEF EFFORTS: To increase aid to Floridians facing economic challenges, state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has created a "Financial Action Team" to pinpoint federal assistance available to Florida. The team is to analyze the Federal Housing and Economic Recovery Act, signed into law last month, to maximize the state’s share in the billions of dollars the act makes available. It’s designed to keep at least 400,000 US homeowners in their houses by offering mortgage refinancing. The Financial Action Team is to hold its first meeting in early September. It includes members of the Florida Bankers Association, Florida Credit Union League, Florida Association of Realtors, Florida League of Cities, Florida Tax Watch and other organizations.
NO INDEPENDENCE: Miami-Dade Commissioner Joe A. Martinez, for one, will be voting in October against Citizens Independent Transportation Trust control of transportation surtax spending or letting the trust hire any consultants it wants. "I don’t think they should hire their own independent consultants," he said, citing cost to taxpayers. He voted against the issue when it won preliminary approval last month, he said, and plans to do so again. "It has nothing to do with the [Aug. 26 commission] election," he said, "at least, my vote doesn’t." But, he said, he will support a measure that has won tentative approval to let the trust pick its executive director — now chosen by County Manager George Burgess. As for the People’s Transportation Plan that the tax funds, Mr. Martinez says he has always opposed it because he thought "it was bait and switch from day one, and it has been…. I was against the half penny and I still am."
FARES NO FAIR: It’s not just the transportation trust that draws Commissioner Martinez’s ire. He’ll also vote in September against fare increases to fund system growth. New Metrorail lines, he said, are doomed. "What’s the point of raising the fares if it’s only to maintain services as they are now?"
MARKETING MISSION: Miami’s Downtown Development Authority board wants to make sure all four of its districts — Central Business, Brickell, Media and Entertainment and Park West — are well-represented in promotions. City Commissioner Joe Sanchez, chairman of the authority board, said at the Aug. 15 meeting that the authority needs to do more to "promote downtown to businesses and developers." Meredith J. Nation, interim deputy director, said the authority needs to focus on "tangible advertising opportunities." In an interview, she said "during this new fiscal year, the staff of the DDA will work closely with the marketing committee on a full marketing campaign to bring attention to all the districts of downtown."
BUSINESS LUNCHEON: A delegation from the US embassies in El Salvador and Guatemala is participating in a networking luncheon Aug. 25 at Miami Free Zone, 2305 NW 107th Ave. in Doral. The consul general of Guatemala, Felipe Alejos Loenzana, is to be keynote speaker. Business matchmaking sessions to help Florida businesses expand bilateral opportunities are scheduled that day from 2-5 p.m. and Aug. 26 from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Details: (305) 471-0737.
ZONING, PLANNING SEATS OPEN: Miami is seeking voters to fill vacant seats on the city’s zoning and planning advisory boards. The planning advisory board has one open slot from the district of Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones, said Teresita Fernandez, executive secretary of the hearing boards. In the zoning advisory board, four vacancies are to be filled, two each for the districts of commissioners Joe Sanchez and Angel Gonzalez. Applications, available at the City Clerk’s Web site, are due by 4 p.m. Aug. 28.
TRADE OPPORTUNITY: El Salvadorian and Guatemalan companies seeking US exports are to visit Miami on Monday and Tuesday as part of the Florida Foreign Trade Association and Enterprise Florida’s TRADE-USA Statewide Export Promotion Trade Initiative. Companies seeking car parts, dental materials, office supplies, electrical supplies and other materials and products are to attend from 2-4:30 p.m. Monday and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Miami Free Zone, 2305 NW 107th Ave. in Doral. Details: http://www.ffta.com.
DEALERSHIP DEVELOPMENT: After six years of planning and construction, Mercedes-Benz of Cutler Bay is to open next month. Cutler Bay Mayor Paul Vrooman is to welcome the dealership to the neighborhood at a ribbon cutting Sept. 18 at 10701 SW 211 St. The new 200,000-square-foot dealership is part of Bill Ussery Motors, which also operates Mercedes-Benz of Coral Gables. It is to feature space for new and used car sales, a service department, a boutique and a client center with Internet access. The dealership should relieve overcrowding at the Coral Gables location and allow improved service at both, said owner and chairman Robert Brockway in an interview last month.
STAYCATION DESTINATIONS: To encourage residents to enjoy the summer despite economic conditions that might limit traveling, Miami-Dade County has begun promoting local "staycation destinations." Residents can find discounts and specials to attractions countywide. Suggestions include the Miami Children’s Museum, where every third Friday is free from 3-9 p.m.; The Miami Art Museum, where visits are free every second Saturday for families from 1-4 p.m.; Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, where admission is free Sundays in August and September; and Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, where the last Sunday of the month is free through August. Details: 311 or www.miamidade.gov.
VANPOOL ADVANTAGES: To ease traffic congestion in Miami-Dade County, its Metropolitan Planning Organization, a transportation planning agency, is promoting its vanpool program, touting an annual $5,000 savings for participants. The program allows participants to save on gas, insurance and car wear-and-tear by riding a 15-person communal van rather than driving. It has eliminated more than 1,000 cars from local roadways, the county says. Vanpoolers also are automatically registered in South Florida Commuter Services’ emergency ride home program, which offers taxi service six times a year, allowing participants flexibility during emergencies. Details: (800) 234-RIDE or www.1800234ride.com.
SUSTAINABILITY SUMMIT: The Florida chapter of the American Planning Association is to hold its annual conference in Miami Sept. 10-13 at the InterContinental Hotel downtown, 100 Chopin Plaza. More than 60 sessions and workshops are to highlight sustainable initiatives, planning ethics and planning law, in step with the conference’s theme, "Sustainability… just plan it." Among the planned seminars is a "fireside chat" with Florida Department of Community Affairs Secretary Thomas Pelham. Details: (312) 334-1250 or email@example.com.
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