FIRST IN FLORIDA: Greater Miami ranked first in hotel occupancy and second in room rates in Florida for the year's first nine months. Miami had 73.1% occupancy, about three percentage points higher than second-ranked Florida Keys. Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach rounded out the top five at 68.3%, 66.6% and 63.6%, respectively. Miami ranked second in average daily room rate at $162.75, about $30 less than the Keys. However, while the Keys had a 4% rate drop, Miami's rate was up 2.5% for the first nine months. Palm Beach, Fort Myers and Fort Lauderdale rounded out the state's top five at $158.68, $141.61 and $129.14.
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STILL DROPPING: Local home prices continue to fall, according to Standard & Poor's home price index data released Tuesday. Home prices in Miami fell 1.8% in August from their value on the index the month before, hitting 183.48, based on a base value set at 100 in January 2000. Miami home prices fell 1.6% on the index between June and July. Over the year, prices depreciated 28.1%, according to the index.
FIRMS ON BOARD: Miami commissioners took a first step last week to study transit circulators around Miami. They OK'd contracts for engineering firms HNTB Corp. at $850,000 and URS Corp. at $200,000 to consult on transportation concepts. Among duties, the firms are to study circulators. Commissioner Marc Sarnoff noted concern with the city spending more than $1 million for two firms to do transportation-related studies. "I just ponder, if we are so concerned about taxpayers' money, why are we spending $1 million to pay people to study where circulators could go?" he said. "It's not a good use of taxpayers' money." City Manager Pete Hernandez said the firms are to provide services for four years based on work orders. They could also review major use special permits, he said, and they'd be on-call for any city needs.
PERFORMING PERMITS: Miami commissioners last week voted to allow performing arts venues to post more on-site signs for events. They didn't pass a companion proposal to increase the size of real estate signs from 1 square foot to 2. The initial approval to increase an arts venue's temporary signs directly benefits the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, which could have 26 special sign permits, using up to two biweekly, to publicize events. A second vote Nov. 13 would make it official.
STADIUM PLANS: The Miami commission last week approved a plat for a $515 million Marlins ballpark in Little Havana on the former Orange Bowl site, creating four tracts for construction of the stadium, parking and commercial and retail space. Commissioners also gave final OK to zoning change to accommodate retail that a stadium would attract, such as restaurants, cafes and sports bars.
INTENSE IMPROVEMENTS: Coral Gables Hospital, 3100 S Douglas Road, is to unveil next week its newly renovated intensive care unit. It features 16 new rooms, category five hurricane windows and new furnishings.
MUM ON EXPANSION: Global healthcare company Schering-Plough Corp. announced last December it would be expanding its Miami Lakes manufacturing facility from 190,000 square feet to 200,000, creating jobs and bolstering the local life sciences industry. But asked this month for updates on the expansion, spokesman Fred Malley said in an e-mail that "we have no new information/comment at this time." New Jersey-based global medical technology company Becton, Dickinson and Co., which announced in May it would open a new North Miami plant, reported this month that the facility is to open late next year.
BOARD REVAMP: With a request pushed by commissioners Angel Gonzalez and Michelle Spence-Jones, the City Commission ousted all members of the Civilian Investigative Panel, which provides independent oversight of the Miami Police Department's practices, policies and procedures and investigates allegations of misconduct. Commissioner Tomás Regalado agreed it's important to re-start the process of appointing candidates: "I think this commission has sent a message to the panel that they need to mirror… the community." "All appointments should be made with sensitivity to racial, gender, ethnic, religious, linguistic and culture diversity of the city," Mr. Gonzalez read from the Civilian Investigative Panel ordinance. "That hasn't been happening in this board." Ms. Spence-Jones said diversity should be encouraged in all city-appointed boards. Both said they'd use the media to encourage the community — signaling out Haitians and Hispanics — to apply. The panel continues to operate with its old board until new members are appointed.
GROUNDBREAKING: Camillus House broke ground Oct. 22 on a 340-bed center at 1603 NW Seventh Ave. between 15th and 17th streets. According to Camillus House officials, Miami Mayor Manny Diaz pledged $10 million in Community Redevelopment Agency funds toward the center, in an effort to end chronic homelessness in the area. Also, the Knight Foundation has awarded a $2 million grant to the project. This expansion will enable Camillus House to sell its 20,000-square-foot building at 726 NE First Ave, with proceeds going toward a capital campaign to build and operate the new campus.
CALENDAR CONUNDRUM: Conflicting schedules of Metropolitan Planning Organization board members sent the county transportation planning agency into a traffic jam last week. Monthly meetings have been cancelled lately due to calendar coordination problems, leading Chairman and County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro to propose changing the monthly meeting from Thursdays to Wednesdays. But that day posed problems for other members, including local mayors and city and county commissioners — all who have government meetings of their own to consider. Cancelling monthly meetings shouldn't be the mode of operation for such an important agency, North Miami Mayor Kevin Burns said, reminding other members the MPO is not a "stepchild board." The new plan may be to allow the chairman to reschedule meetings. Now, any date changes have to be made by an official board resolution.
PROPERTY ENFORCEMENT: Miami's proposal to expedite enforcement at foreclosed, blighted and unsecured properties won approval this month. Mariano Loret de Mola, code enforcement director, told commissioners he hopes to have the measure in effect in 45 days because close to 60 properties need immediate attention. City Manager Pete Hernandez said the city first plans a 30-day campaign to inform property owners and banks of the ordinance. Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones said a strong community campaign is vital, "not just stick fliers at the NET (Neighborhood Enhancement Team) offices."
SETTING EXAMPLE: The move to beef up code enforcement prompted a second proposal. Ms. Spence-Jones requested that the department draft a similar measure to deal with vacant and abandoned lots. Mr. Loret de Mola said he hopes to have that proposal ready for commission review by November.
FUNDS FOR FOOTBALL: The Miami commission last week voted to renovate the Moore Park Athletic Field. The city is to get a $2.5 million grant from the Orange Bowl Committee that the city is to match to construct a state-of-the-art football field along with a track, concession area and restrooms at Moore Park in the heart of Allapattah. The city is to cover its share with a sunshine state loan. Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones asked the city to review parking needs at the park as the project moves forward because the park already struggles with parking.
BIG WHEELS: Miami commissioners unanimously approved the Green Commission Bicycle Action Plan — support that was expected after some commissioners and officials pedaled to City Hall. The resolution recommends making Miami bike-friendly and suggests expanding bike routes, educating motorists and cyclists to share the roadway and promoting bike riding. "Miami needs to change," said Robert Ruano, city director of sustainable initiatives. "The flat terrain and good weather make it ideal for this recreational activity." The plan goes pedal-to-pedal with another the city OK'd last month: MiPlan, Miami's first climate action plan, targets areas where the city can strive to be more sustainable. The city seeks League of American Bicyclists designation as a bicycle-friendly community by 2012.
EASY ENTRY: US Customs and Border Protection announced Monday that a Global Entry enrollment center is now open at Miami International Airport as well as four other expansion airports including Los Angeles International, Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International and Chicago O'Hare International. The new Global Entry program allows approved US citizens and lawful permanent residents returning to the US to use the Global Entry kiosk as an alternative to the regular passport control line. At the kiosk, Global Entry members will activate the system by inserting their passport or lawful permanent resident card into a document reader. The pilot program began June 6 at JFK, George Bush Intercontinental in Houston and Washington Dulles International airports. Details: www.globalentry.gov.
FRESH DESKS: DeVry University's Miami campus has opened a campus at 8700 W Flagler St., replacing the nationwide higher-education institute's old facility at 200 S Biscayne Blvd. DeVry's Miami campus opened its Keller School of Business Management in 2000 and began offering undergraduate courses in business administration, computer information systems, network communications management and others in 2002. Dean David Cole said the new campus offers increased parking, more classroom space and a state-of-the-art student resource center. Enrollment figures weren't available.
GROVE VOTES: Finally, Coconut Grove businesses get to vote on creating a business improvement district. Ballots hit mailboxes this month; voting ends Nov. 21. Unreturned ballots count as "no." Approval of the taxing district, close to two years in the making, requires a 50%-plus-one vote — 129 votes — of affected property owners. The district outline incorporates 256 businesses belonging to more than 100 owners, said David Collins, executive director of the Grove's Business Improvement Committee. "This is the only plan on the table to bring property owners to work on the future of the Grove," he said.