Written by Miami Today on September 25, 2008
Miami is a weekly feature of Miami Today, keeping readers ahead
of the news. Here are highlights from the most current edition.
SLOTS SOON: Pushing forward in plans to expand after Miami-Dade voters approved Las Vegas-style slots early this year, Flagler Sports and Entertainment Center officials announced this week that LPCiminelli of Buffalo, NY, is to head up construction. The $91 million upgrade is to include a new casino of 1,500 slot machines, an improved grandstand and concourse at the 29-acre dog track, and a new food court. The construction company has completed similar projects in New York, Pennsylvania and Indiana.
ARENA DOWN: The focus is on the future after the Miami Arena was imploded Sunday, says Glenn Straub, owner of the property. A recent ruling by Miami-Dade County Circuit Court Judge Jeri Beth Cohen that a new baseball stadium built on the city-owned site of the former Orange Bowl can serve a paramount public purpose put a serious dent in Mr. Straub’s dream of building a Marlins stadium on his land. He said if county commissioners have made their decision, it’s time to move forward. "We’re not going to let it sit there," he said. "I can understand if they have their money and made their decision. I make a lot of decisions that I’ve had second thoughts afterwards." Mr. Straub said he would prefer a movie studio be put on the site.
AID FOR THE UNINSURED: Miami-Dade County’s 600,000 uninsured residents may soon be able to get a low-cost health plan after commissioners unanimously approved a contract for the Miami-Dade BLUE health plan last week. The pilot program, co-designed by BlueCross BlueShield of Florida and the Office of Countywide Healthcare Planning and spearheaded by Commissioner Joe Martinez, is to offer residents and their families — as well as small businesses and their employees — health insurance. Proposed premiums for the median age of uninsured residents, about 35, sit at $110 a month for males, $122 for females. The no-cost contract with the insurer is pending regulatory approval from the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation in Tallahassee. Enrollment is expected to begin in May.
CITY LOAN COMMITTEE: Miami commissioners could today (9/25) establish a Housing and Commercial Loan Committee that would approve city housing and commercial loans and grants using state and federal funds. The board is to offer oversight, recommend on affordable housing issues and review policies and land development regulations. The committee would receive a sunset review every four years.
UPLIFTING MIAMI: Miami has issued a $418,000 contract to Walter L. Lista Inc. to repair steel columns in the basement of City Hall, 3500 Pan American Drive. The columns "present a life safety issue," city documents say. "The repair must be made immediately," said Ola Aluko, head of capital improvements. The city commission also approved modernization of elevators at Municipal Riverside Center, the city’s administrative hub that was constructed as an office building for FPL. "We know those elevators are in shambles," said Commission Chairman Joe Sanchez, joking that lately he had seen some city personnel losing weight (presumably from using the stairs). Those repairs are in the hands of Oracle Elevator Co., which is charging about $1 million.
NO MORE NOTICES: After Miami sent 40,000 letters in error to residents reminding them to have flood insurance because their homes were in flood zones, little has happened. The letters went by mistake to residents in non-flooding areas after the building department mislabeled two CDs. The city distributed a correction letter to Neighborhood Enhancement Teams offices last week, more than a week after the error was revealed at a commission meeting, and uploaded the letter to the city’s Web site. No notices to media have been issued. Nor has any notice of the erroneous letters been televised on the city’s channel 77 broadcast channel. Kelly Penton, director of communications, said the building department has determined no other remedies are necessary. Anything else could be evaluated, she said. "But for now that is the course of action being taken."
DIRECTOR TO-BE: The interim leadership of Miami’s Downtown Development Authority might stay on. The executive search committee is canceling services of DHR, the firm selected to hunt nationally for an executive director. The committee has decided not to proceed with those services now, said Jay Solowsky, authority board member. He said the board is satisfied with the work of Alyce Robertson, interim director, and Meredith Nation, interim deputy director. At the directive of board Chairman and City Commissioner Joe Sanchez, the board agreed to vote Oct. 17 to name Ms. Robertson and Ms. Nation to the permanent posts. "I am happy with the service of both directors." Mr. Sanchez said. "We are moving in the right direction." Ms. Robertson is now on loan from the county, Ms. Nation from the city.
MASTER PLAN REVIVAL: The Downtown Development Authority plans a 4-6 p.m. Sept. 26 workshop to discuss reviving and possibly altering the downtown master plan, which has sat dormant for a year. The plan would add underground parking and a downtown streetcar, redevelop the I-95 Dupont Plaza ramp and narrow Biscayne Boulevard to expand waterfront parkland.
MAYORAL ADDRESS: At a Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce meeting, Mayor Don Slesnick was bold about challenges the city faces, including refurbishing aging infrastructure. He also cited expensive employee pensions and the closing of the city’s country club. But he said a "can do" attitude and willingness to move forward are most important. In the past seven years, he said, the city has made great strides to add such amenities as the trolley system and traffic calming circles in neighborhoods. Little mention was made of other current issues such as the future of the city manager position, revamping the management team or a possible switch to a strong mayor government.
CITY NAMES OUTSIDE COUNSEL: The Miami City Attorney’s Office has selected firms to use as bond counsel when needed. "The firms would be used from time to time on an as-need basis," said City Attorney Julie Bru. The city selected as bond counsel and disclosure counsel Akerman Senterfit; Bryant Miller Olive; Foley and Lardner; and Squire, Sanders & Dempsey; with Knoxseaton joining the list of disclosure counsel firms.
NEW HEADQUARTERS: Property and casualty insurer United Automobile Insurance Group has consolidated its South Florida offices and moved its headquarters and 750 employees to 1313 NW 167th St. in Miami Gardens. The company was based in North Miami Beach with satellite offices in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
SUPPORTING MARINE INDUSTRY: Commission Chairman Joe Sanchez asked fellow Miami commissioners to support Amendment 6 on the Nov. 4 ballot to help promote Florida’s maritime industry. He said the proposed amendment would allow the marine industry to get a tax break from the state to promote the industry and protect jobs along the Miami River. The proposal won support from all commissioners except Angel Gonzalez, who said he could not vote because he was unfamiliar with it. The commission endorsement caused some surprise in light of criticism the commission has received for changing the city’s comprehensive land-use plan language to encourage residential development along the river. Marine industry supporters say the changes put marine-related jobs at risk by encouraging residential encroachment.
BUDGET PASSES: Miami-Dade commissioners last week passed a budget that lowers the tax rate for fire, libraries and the unincorporated municipal service area but increases the countywide rate, reducing taxes for most residents but raising them for some — namely, city dwellers. The lone nay came from Carlos Gimenez, who this month proposed millions in budget cuts that would have allowed the county to tax everyone equally.