Written by Miami Today on November 20, 2008
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NO PRIVATIZING: A move to analyze privatizing all or part of Miami-Dade’s financially troubled transit system broke down at a Transit Committee meeting last week. Commissioners silently put the brakes on colleague Javier Souto’s proposed study, none moving to approve or deny it, allowing it to die without a vote. "This is only an attempt to see what’s happening out there and what chances do we have of perhaps improving somehow," he said before the shut-out. Katy Sorenson made the only comment, noting that "we certainly have some private services," such as jitneys. "I certainly don’t want to dismantle our transit system in order to substitute that for private entities," she said. Mr. Souto said the idea was never to dismantle, just explore adding to the system. "There might be a way of improving on what we have. I’m trying to find a solution, and maybe a study will tell us," he said before the measure died.
COMING SOON: $5.8 million in construction has begun at 285 Aragon Ave., future site of the Coral Gables Museum. Work expected to be complete by 2010 includes restoration of a 1939 coral-stone structure that once housed the Coral Gables police and fire station and a new, 3,000-square-foot gallery. The gallery, according to museum Chairman George Kakouris, will house traveling exhibits that examine cityscaping while the pre-existing structure will hold city offices, city archives, a research library and a restored courtroom. "There’s much more thought being put into construction than there was 20 to 30 years ago" he said. "We hope to create a home for those ideas."
IN THE DARK: A full house was left in the dark at Thursday’s Miami City Commission meeting after power went out at City Hall in Coconut Grove about 11:50 a.m. during a discussion on foreclosure woes. Some in the audience asked if the city was being foreclosed on or had forgotten to pay its electric bill. Within minutes, an early lunch recess was called and the chambers were vacated. Faulty equipment was at fault according to the Florida Power & Light Co., said Kelly Penton, city communications director. About 1,200 customers were without power, which was restored within an hour.
NEW SISTER CITY: Prague could soon be added to the list of Miami-Dade Sister Cities should county commissioners give initial approval to a recommendation today (11/20). "Both communities base their economy on trade and tourism" and are gateways to other regions, county documents say. And, Czech government officials "wish to explore the possibility of opening trade offices in Miami-Dade County."
STIMULUS INITIATIVES: In response to rising unemployment and the economic downturn, Miami commissioners last week approved initiatives to stimulate the economy. They OK’d foreclosure prevention measures, neighborhood stabilization programs and job creation initiatives. The city accepted the US Department of Housing & Urban Development’s $12.06 million to combat the foreclosure plague in Miami’s neighborhoods. It allocates funds for an equity-sharing program for low-income people who buy foreclosed homes. It also gives the city authority to buy abandoned and foreclosed homes to repair or demolish.
FORECLOSURE PREVENTION: Miami commissioners also approved creation of the city’s own foreclosure prevention program to help residents behind in their mortgage payments. Miami’s Department of Community Development has set aside $500,000 to help low-income residents keep their homes. They must meet strict guidelines such as household income below 80% of median and show they can make future mortgage payments.
EXPEDITING CITY PROJECTS: Miami officials OK’d an economic stimulus agreement to expedite professional services agreements and construction projects. Commissioners say such projects could provide much-needed jobs to the local construction labor force. The item comes back to the commission for final approval Dec. 11. "Job creation is the No.1 concern right now," said commission Chairman Joe Sanchez, mentioning job loss and layoffs nationwide. "This is what government should be doing."
ONE SPORTSMAN: To put the Miami-Dade Sports Commission in line with other county committees, current co-chairman and County Commissioner José "Pepe" Diaz is to propose today (11/20) that the body have only one chair — a commissioner. Now, the committee votes to designate a co-chair to pair with a commission chair. "Let’s put it like the rest of the committees and make it more uniform," he said. The sports commission plays an advisory role in drawing sports teams and events to the county, he said. "That tends to go a long way because there are representatives of the whole community, basically, in the sports commission." Members include representatives from professional and university teams. Said Mr. Diaz: "the sports commission’s job is to make sure we stay in the forefront of sports."
PARKING PRICE PROGRESS: Jones Lang LaSalle, consultant to the City of Miami in developing the former Orange Bowl site for a Marlins stadium, is making progress in designing parking structures in line with city cost projections, says John Paccione, managing director. City officials have said providing 6,000 garage spots should cost about $94 million. But consultants — including Jones Lang LaSalle — have projected costs upward of $135 million as recently as June. Now, "we’re starting to see the numbers get very close to the city’s budget," Mr. Paccione said. He declined to share specifics but attributed projected cost drops to design efforts and the construction market. "We’ve been very efficient with the design, layout and plans for the parking structures. We’ve simplified the facades of the parking structures… and the market is getting very competitive." Specifics should appear in a filing for a major use special permit expected next month.
BONDS ROADBLOCK?: The higher garage cost estimates revealed by Miami Today prompted stadium opponent Norman Braman to file a new motion in his legal battle against the ballpark. He’s lost thus far in court but vows to appeal. Ongoing litigation could affect a bond sale, says South Carolina lawyer Margaret Pope, president of the American College of Bond Counsel. Miami-Dade does not plan to seek financing until spring, but if the suit is ongoing, the county’s bond counsel would have to disclose it. "They would talk about whether it was material in their opinion or not, in their opinion what their chances of success are, and it would be up to the purchasers to weigh that as a factor in buying the bond," she said. If the legal issue could affect whether the project rises and the bonds get paid, it could deter buyers, she said. But "I have certainly closed bond issues when there has been outstanding litigation on it because the purchasers deemed it to have little probability of success, or it had little to do with the project itself."
ARTFUL LEADERS: Gail S. Meyers is to serve two years as president of Miami Art Museum’s trustees. The seven-year trustee had been secretary and replaces Mary E. Frank as president. Two new members have been elected to the board: author Lin Lougheed and real estate professional Jeff Krinsky. The board is to play a role in creating the museum’s planned facility in downtown parkland.
EXTRA, EXTRA: The Miami Herald says its printing operations are here to stay. Though three Palm Beach newspapers — including the Palm Beach Post — are to move their printing to the South Florida Sun Sentinel’s plant in Deerfield Beach next month, eliminating 300 jobs, the Herald says it plans to continue printing at One Herald Plaza, where it has done so since the early 1960s. The Herald does not release employment information and would not disclose how many are employed at the plant.