Written by Miami Today on November 6, 2008
Miami is a weekly feature of Miami Today, keeping readers ahead
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LONG INTERMISSION: Completion of the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center has been pushed back again, this time more than a year beyond its original Feb. 11, 2008, due date, county documents show. The new finish line is Feb. 24, 2009 — more than a month and a half later than officials projected last month. The two-building center on Southwest 211th Street in Cutler Bay still faces construction issues, including roofing deficiencies. Last month, county officials met with the president of the firm heading the project, OHL USA’s Lauro Bravar, "to express our expectation that these construction issues be addressed thoroughly and satisfactorily," the documents say. "In addition, we reiterated our request to receive a firm substantial completion date…" Thus far, the county has paid $28.3 million of the $39.5 million contract and continues to assess delay damages monthly.
CANADIAN CLUB: The Country Club of Coral Gables, whose operator left in May, may have found new management in a Canadian hospitality company that hopes to open a renovated club next fall. City commissioners agreed to start negotiations with Toronto-based Liberty Entertainment Group, which holds 15 other properties, does $40 million in annual sales and has renovated and made profitable other historic facilities. This will be the group’s first venue outside Toronto, said President and CEO Nick Di Donato. The company proposes to renovate the club — specifically its interior entrance and some health facilities, he said — and is prepared to invest up to $1.5 million in refurnishing and start-up costs. "I think it’s going to be a spectacular venue," he said. Liberty has also proposed an annual percentage reduction in fees for former club members.
PLAIN LANGUAGE, PLEASE: All potential risks to Miami-Dade County should be spelled out "in plain language" in legislation requesting approval to issue bonds and notes, says a resolution sponsored by Commissioner Carlos Gimenez. The Budget and Finance Committee passed the measure with no discussion Tuesday. Legislation should also be distributed to commissioners within 48 hours of determining pricing and should include interest rates, amortization schedule and issuance costs, his measure says. Should the resolution receive full commission approval, it would require also that a county official give an annual report on bonds, notes and swaps, as well as periodic reports on market conditions and risks.
BOND OPTIONS: Miami-Dade County’s Budget and Finance Committee agreed Tuesday to allow county officials to issue up to $350 million in general obligation bonds in segments rather than in a lump sum "if need be," said Finance Director Rachel Baum. The committee already agreed last month to the bond sale. "This just gives us the flexibility" to work in an unstable market, she said. If passed by the full commission, the resolution would also give county staffers the ability to negotiate with a team of underwriters. The county may go to market in December but would wait until early next year if the market doesn’t settle in time, Ms. Baum said. The plan is to issue fixed-rate bonds with straight amortization of principle and interest.
SISTER CITIES: Miami Beach Mayor Matti Herrera Bower and Fujisawa, Japan, Mayor Yasunori Ebine are to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the sister city program between the cities at the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce’s 2008 Diamond Palm Luncheon from 11:30- 2 p.m. Nov. 13 at Jungle Island, 1111 Parrot Jungle Trail, in Miami. More than 30 delegates from Fujisawa are to attend. Details and RSVP: Danielle Hirschfeld, (305) 695-6834, or email@example.com.
OPEN-AIR MARKET: Miami commissioners voted to allow an open-air market in Biscayne Boulevard between Northeast 51st and 77th streets. It would be located alongside the Vagabond Hotel owned by Eric Silverman, who plans to revamp the area with markets, restaurants and businesses. But some neighbors and community preservationists say he should first work to restore the hotel property. The ordinance allows for a permit to participate in open-air, farmers’ and crafts markets. Legal hours are 8 a.m.-8 p.m. weekends. Items for sale are limited to fruits, vegetables, prepared drinks, raw foods and handmade crafts, said Lourdes Slazyk, assistant planning and zoning director. Mr. Silverman asked to include an area for antiques and collectibles, but Marc Sarnoff, who represents the district, said some residents fear the mart could turn into a flea market if more uses are allowed.
MIAMI 21 RETURNS: Miami 21, the city’s proposed zoning code, is finally ready for hearings. The Planning Advisory Board is tentatively to hear it Nov. 19, according to a memorandum to the city commission from City Manager Pete Hernandez. The administration is also looking at meetings Dec. 2 and Jan. 8 dedicated only to Miami 21 as potential dates for commission votes, the memo states. The planning department is now briefing all five commissioners to address concerns and zoning maps, Mr. Hernandez wrote. Neighborhood workshops and open houses to hear comments have already been held.
PLAN RECAP: Miami 21 addresses the city’s vision for a 21st century look and improvements to neighborhoods. Since it was broached in 2005, the plan has endured public scrutiny and changes to meet demands of Miamians. The Planning Advisory Board and the city commission could further tweak the plan. Miami 21 calls for an approach to land use and urban planning that would transform the zoning code. It focuses on zoning, economic development, historic preservation, parks and open spaces, arts and culture, and transportation.
RECORD COLLECTIONS: Miami-Dade had record Convention Development Tax collections for the first nine months of 2008. The three-quarter total of $36.6 million is a 1.8% above the same period in 2007, according to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. The revenue generated by the 3% tax is used in part to support and maintain public facilities such as existing convention centers, arenas and auditoriums.
FIRE-FEE REFUND: Finally, after 10 years of fire-fee litigation, Miami’s taxpayers are to get fire-fee refund checks. Circuit Judge Jose Rodriguez approved the $17.1 million settlement last week. Checks are to soon reach taxpayers who applied by the Oct. 21 deadline. The court ruled that the portion of the fee that paid for rescue services to a property — not a person — was illegal. After years of legal battle, plenty of controversy and an initial seven-resident settlement that would have cut other property owners out of their share —the fire fee case is closed.
WORLDCENTER ADVANCES: Miami commissioners gave initial approval to Miami Worldcenter, which seeks to add four hotels, retail corridors and restaurants to a nine-square-block site in Park West. Commissioners voted on a zoning change Oct. 23 to make way for the 25-acre project and a long-term development agreement. Commissioner Marc Sarnoff is receptive, he said, because the area hasn’t seen development since 1965, missing four booms in Miami. Commission Chairman Joe Sanchez, who also chairs the Downtown Development Authority, agreed: "The opportunity for revitalization is priceless. Downtown Miami would benefit from it and enjoy it."
OTHER IDEAS: Commissioner Tomás Regalado suggested adding language to the Worldcenter agreement to hire union construction workers for the building phase and Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones asked the Community Redevelopment Agency to monitor the project. Worldcenter attorney Neisen Kasdin said it was too early to speak on specifics but said as the project advances those ideas would be explored. Miami Worldcenter returns to the commission for a final vote Nov. 13.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST?: Commissioner Regalado voiced concerns about Nitin Motwani, representative of Miami Worldcenter, because he sits on Miami’s Downtown Development Authority. The authority, a week before the commission meeting, endorsed the project. Mr. Motwani was absent and two board members abstained: Mr. Kasdin, project attorney, and Tony Alonso, who owns property at the site.
FURTHER REVIEW: City code states that no member of a board can "enter into a contract or transact any business with the city." Maria Chiaro, deputy city attorney, looked into the issue and e-mailed to Mr. Regalado that no conflict existed. "We are informed that the person who appeared before the city commission (Mr. Motwani) was not the developer but an "agent’ who represented the developer," she said.
BRAZIL BOUND: American Airlines has added direct flights to Grenada as well as Salvador da Bahia, Recife and Belo Horizonte in Brazil and now offers 27 destinations throughout Latin American and another 23 throughout the Caribbean. "We are encouraged with the opportunities in Latin America and the Caribbean," said Senior VP Peter J. Dolara. "These new destinations from MIA show our commitment to continue to grow our Miami hub."
MEDICAL CLINICS ALLOWED: Miami commissioners OK’d a zoning change to allow medical and dental clinics and offices along and near Biscayne Boulevard from Northeast 17th Terrace to Northeast 37th Street. Medical professionals would need Class II special permits to open offices up to 4,000 square feet per practice in the district.
GREEN WORKSHOP: Florida International University’s Engineering and Computing College is holding a workshop Nov. 12-13 on Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) to teach about green building and prepare participants for the accreditation exam. Registration is $800 until Nov. 7, $1,000 thereafter. Enrollment is limited to 30 people. Details: www.arc.fiu.edu/registration/.
HOLDING ON: The Financial Times ranks the executive MBA program at Florida International University’s College of Business Administration 82nd of 95 national and international programs. The program fell one spot from its 2007 ranking of 81 and four spots from 78 in 2006. While the program still ranks among the top 35 in the US, Luis Casas, College of Business director of marketing and recruiting, said being, and staying, in the rankings is what’s important. "There are a lot of large urban business schools in the US that aren’t on that list."
SMALL BUSINESS SEMINARS: Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez, along with officials from local agencies, is to host a series of small business development expositions beginning today (11/6). Participants are to learn how to work with the county and other organizations to secure financial and business opportunities. Representatives from the Small Business Administration, Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, Accion USA, South Florida Workforce and several local chambers of commerce are to join county representatives. All are 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. The first is today at Firefighters Memorial Building, 8000 NW 21st St. The Nov. 14 expo is at the North Dade Regional Library, 2455 NW 183rd St. The Nov. 20 expo is at West Kendall Regional Library, 10201 Hammocks Blvd. All are free for small business owners; pre-registration is required. Details: Lawanda Wright-Robinson, (305) 375-3186.
RIDE ON: Tri-Rail ridership passed the 50-million mark last week after nearly 20 years in service. October ridership was 23.6% above the same month last year, and average daily ridership increased by more than 3,000 compared to October 2007. The American Public Transportation Association, which tracks national statistics, reports Tri-Rail was the third-fastest growing commuter rail system in the US for the first half of this year.
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