STATE SUPREMACY: Greater Miami ranked first in hotel occupancy in Florida for the first 10 months of 2008, according to Smith Travel Research. At 72.3% occupancy, Greater Miami was about five percentage points higher than the Florida Keys, which were second at 68.6%. Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach rounded out the top five, of which Miami was the only market to see an increase — albeit small at 0.1%. Greater Miami also saw 2.2% growth in average daily room rate from January to October — second in the state behind only the Keys. Unlike the Keys, which saw a 5% dip from the same period in 2007, Greater Miami had 2.2% increase. Palm Beach, Fort Myers and Fort Lauderdale rounded out the top five.
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ARUBA AQUÍ: The Aruba Tourism Authority has moved its US Tourism Headquarters to Coral Gables from Fort Lauderdale. The lease transaction at 2334 Ponce de Leon Blvd. was facilitated by Kerdyk Real Estate and signed in August, said Jason Obeso, commercial associate with Kerdyk. Mr. Obeso said the authority has already moved in and is in the "process of getting the signs up" and other preparatory items.
ART BASEL RIDES: The City of Miami is teaming up with Art Basel's satellite art fairs to offer visitors a shuttle service from Miami Beach to downtown Miami. A second shuttle is to circulate downtown connecting all the fairs that open during Art Basel Week in the Design District, Midtown and Wynwood. For environmentally-conscious art lovers, another option is pedicabs, which are offering rides to all fairs, galleries and studios in downtown Miami. The shuttles and pedicabs are to run Dec. 3-7.
FASHION FUSION: Representatives of Italy's fashion and cultural sectors were to descend on Miami this week in another step toward establishing an industry hub for Italian fashion and lifestyle brands here. The Milan Chamber of Commerce was to sign memorandums of understanding with Miami-Dade County's Beacon Council and the National Italian American Foundation to formalize intentions to develop economic ties and create a fashion and luxury link between the county and Italy's Lombardy Region. Attendees were also to meet in matchmaking sessions with local fashion retailers. Leaders from the Milan Chamber of Commerce, Fashion Committee of Lombardy Region, National Chamber for Italian Fashion, Coveri Couture and Vernissage Fondazione Ambrosiana were expected to attend.
ITALIAN ART: Through Dec. 17, Miamians are to have the chance to view never-before-traveled works by Leonardo da Vinci, Tiziano Vecellio, Albrecht Durer and Giovanni Ambrogio De Predis, straight from Milan's Biblioteca Ambrosiana. Founded 400 years ago in Milan, Ambrosiana boasts one of the world's largest art collections. The Miami exhibition is to be in downtown's Freedom Tower, 600 Biscayne Blvd. Miami-based Italian Consul General Marco Rocca said in November that bringing the pieces here would be "a major cultural event for Miami."
RIVER REJECTION: It came as no surprise when the South Florida Regional Planning Council this week for the second time rejected the City of Miami's comprehensive plan for removing the word "Port" from the Miami River element. The council argues that lifting working river protections would displace marine uses along the river to make way for condos. The council voted against the city's proposed plan back in June and sent those comments to the Florida Department of Community Affairs, the state's land planning agency, which now has final say on the city's re-submitted plan. City commissioners approved the amended plan in November. The state's land planning agency is expected to decide on the city's latest plan amendments in January.
KNOCK ON WOOD: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who lives in Coral Gables, has been elected to Rayonier's board of directors. The company owns, leases or manages 2.6 million acres of timber and land in the US and New Zealand and produces specialty cellulose fibers.
PAY RAISE: Miami-Dade County's chief attorney is to get a 9% raise after an 8-5 commission vote Tuesday, bringing his salary to $317,000. Several commissioners argued that now is not the time. Carlos Gimenez said County Attorney Robert Cuevas, like other employees, should see a 4% cost-of-living increase — part of the 9% — as well as health benefits for his family, "but that's as far as I go… 9% is a bit high right now, especially in these times." Katy Sorenson said the hefty increase "sends the wrong message to the community, and to our other employees," asserting "we really can't afford this." The county for two years has been forced to shave hundreds of millions from its $7 billion-plus budget. José "Pepe" Diaz countered that the 5% merit increase is warranted, pointing to highly paid corporate attorneys. "That's the way we've got to look at it," he said. Barbara Jordan, a former county administrator, said, "for as long as I can remember," employees have gotten 5% raises after satisfactory evaluations. He should not get less, she said. Mr. Cuevas, who retired as an assistant county attorney and then returned as county attorney last year, also gets pension benefits.
GETTING READY: Preparing for Dennis Moss to take over as chair in January, Miami-Dade commissioners Tuesday offered him advice on the county's committee system. Outgoing Chair Bruno Barreiro suggested creating a taskforce or appointing a point person to keep tabs on the census process over the next few years. "Accountability is crucial," he said. "You get this shot every 10 years to basically do it right." Rebeca Sosa said she thinks "the time has come" to create a committee focusing on "issues of countywide importance" to balance what some call a district-focused commission. Carlos Gimenez also raised the possibility of creating a committee to focus on a hot topic such as sustainability or the economy. Mr. Moss assured colleagues that "we're going to hit the ground running, and we're going to get something accomplished over the next two years."
GROVE GETS BID: After almost two years, Coconut Grove commercial property owners approved a self-taxing improvement district with 165 votes. It makes way for a more vibrant downtown, supporters say. Property owners in the 18-block district — from South Bayshore Drive to Darwin Street, Aviation Avenue to Margaret Street and along Main Highway to Franklin Avenue — are agreeing to fund area improvements and marketing efforts. In the most difficult financial times, Grove property owners felt it was important to invest in improving business for the Grove, said David Collins, executive director of the Coconut Grove Business Improvement Committee.
THE BID'S WORTH: Coconut Grove's self-taxing district is to generate a little under $1.4 million its first year: almost $500,000 from district taxes and $900,000 from city funding, Mr. Collins has said. Benefits, he said, include cleaner streets, more security, increased marketing and more business for retailers and restaurant owners.
EXPRESS YOURSELF: Tolls are to be charged on the 95 Express lanes beginning at 6 a.m. Friday. The lanes run north on Interstate 95 from I-395 in downtown Miami to the Golden Glades interchange. Tolls, which are based entirely on demand, usually will fall between 25 cents and $2.65 but could rise to $6.20 during extreme congestion. Emergency vehicles, registered vanpools, registered carpools of three or more passengers, registered hybrid vehicles and motorcycles are exempted from buying the SunPass transponder needed to use the lane. The project had been slated to kick off in the summer, but factors that included hurricanes and vandalism slowed the process.
START UP: The Florida Foreign Trade Association is to host next week a workshop, "How to successfully set up and operate a new company in the state of Florida." The seminar is to cover requirements and procedures for setting up a company in Florida; how to link up with local business-development organizations; taxation planning tips; budget structure and other topics. The event is to be 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Dec. 9 in the Miami Free Zone conference room, 2305 NW 107th Ave., Doral. Fee: $198. Register by Dec. 8. Details: (305) 471-0737 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
AIR PAIR?: Miami's air museum, Wings Over Miami, hopes to provide a home for the Historical Museum of Southern Florida's Pan American World Airways and Eastern Airlines memorabilia, Wings board member Dr. John Nordt says. Officials have had preliminary talks, he said. Historical museum officials did not return calls. If it takes off, it would be an exciting partnership, Dr. Nordt said, as "there's an awful lot of memorabilia" that the historical museum does not have space to display. At the Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport, the Wings Over Miami Museum displays and flies aircraft.
STADIUM SUPPORT: The Latin Builders Association has come out in support of a planned $515 million Marlins ballpark. In a November letter urging Miami City Manager Pete Hernandez to continue supporting the deal, association president Osvaldo Vento Jr. wrote, "The construction industry in South Florida is in a downward spiral and it is our belief that the approval of this contract would reignite our local economy and bring much needed jobs back into the construction workforce… we realize that no agreement is perfect, but we believe our community will benefit in the long run from both the economic and recreational benefits the stadium will bring."
HOLIDAY PARKING: Coral Gables and the Coral Gables Business Improvement District are offering downtown shoppers two hours of free parking in some municipal garages every Saturday in December. Shoppers can receive up to two hours free using coupons from merchants. Participating garages include Garage 1 on the 200 block of Andalusia Avenue; Garage 2 on the 200 block of Aragon Avenue; Garage 4 on the 300 block of Andalusia Avenue; and Garage 6 on the 0 block of Aragon Avenue. And from Dec. 13-28, expired on-street parking meters won't be met with tickets right away. Holiday Courtesy Tickets will allow a one-hour extension.
MOVING UP: Michael DiPietro has been named vice mayor of Doral by the city's mayor and council. He was elected to the Doral Community Council in 2002 and was later chosen to sit on the Doral City Council as one of two senior councilmen. He will succeed Pete Cabrera.
MIAMI WORLDCENTER OK'D: Without much fuss from anyone, a nine-block, mixed-use project that seeks to revitalize Park West was approved. But based on requests some city commissioners made on the project's first review, developers agreed to changes. They committed to cooperate with the Community Redevelopment Agency on development in the area, said project attorney Neisen Kasdin. They also vowed to work with local entities and schools to develop job training and placement for residents at the future site — where hotels, restaurants and retail are planned — giving placement priority to those who live within CRA-bounded areas such as Overtown and Park West. Commissioners approved a zoning change to make room for the 25-acre project and a 20-year development agreement.