MUSEUM LEASES: Miami commissioners are to vote today (12/11) on leases between the city and three local museums to move into Museum Park, the city's urban redesign for Bicentennial Park. Eight acres of parkland are slated as homes for two museum facilities, one for Miami Art Museum and the other shared by Museum of Science and the Historical Association of Southern Florida. The science museum hopes to raise $100 million to add to the county's $175 million in bond money for construction. The art museum plans to build on a $208 million budget, $100 million of it from bond funding. The city is to develop the 24-acre park component estimated at $50 million and a 200-space underground garage to cost $10 million. City commissioners are to also approve recommendations by a community benefits committee formed in the summer to evaluate the project's public benefits.
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DEVELOPING DORAL: Flagler Development Group has broken ground on the first piece of a multimillion-square-foot, mixed-use project that could add nearly 3,000 residential units and 1 million square feet of commercial space to downtown Doral. The Cordoba, scheduled for completion in summer 2010, is to feature 224 residences priced around $200,000. Flagler Vice President Chris Cobb said the Cordoba is only a small piece of the company's $50 million development of downtown Doral and should not be slowed by the slumping economy. "[Downtown Doral] is a long-term project and it may take 10 years to develop the space we're entitled to," he said. "The fact that we're in a downturn now is disappointing but when this building is done in and a year and half we and believe the economy will have stabilized."
FIRE-FEE CHECKS: Miami fire-fee payers shouldn't be surprised to get a refund check in the mailbox next week. Epiq Systems, the fire-fee settlement administrator, has told city officials it hopes to have final claim figures by Dec. 15 and mail checks by Dec. 19. Circuit Judge Jose Rodriguez approved the $17.1 million settlement in late October, but after class counsel fees and other administrative costs were deducted, the common fund was reduced to $14 million, according to a City Attorney's Office e-mail to city officials and administrators. The court has ruled that the portion of the fee that paid for rescue services to a property, not a person, was illegal. After a 10-year legal battle, plenty of controversy and an initial seven-resident settlement that would have cut other property owners out of the deal, taxpayers are to get their refund.
BRANCHING OUT: It appears the Miami Mart Airport Hotel will become the newest member of the Doubletree Hotel family. "The final license agreement has been signed and approved by all parties," said General Manager Matt Lahiff, via e-mail. There's no official date yet for the switchover, he said. The hotel has been running as an independent since it cut ties with Sheraton on June 26, looking to better highlight its convention-friendly amenities. The hotel, with its conference center and ballroom, has about 150,000 square feet of conference space. The Miami Mart hotel is about three miles from Miami International Airport near the Blue Lagoon business district. Doubletree is an upscale brand in the Hilton chain.
MORE OFFICE FOR LAKES: Completion of a 66,000-square-foot Class A office building in Miami Lakes' Business Park West adds to an already-high inventory. Graham Companies, developer of the Town of Miami Lakes, owns a large portion of Business Park West's office and retail spaces. The $8 million office building is part of a three-building project, Governor's Square, and is 100% vacant, said Steven Style, Graham Companies' vice president of marketing. He said with the new building, Graham totals about 150,000 square feet of available office space in Business Park West.
DANCING THROUGH ADVERSITY: The cratering economy has forced the Miami City Ballet to cancel its live-orchestra accompaniment for Program III and IV of its 2008-09 season. As of Dec. 4, the ballet had raised $188,281.83. A live orchestra for the season cost $480,000. According to General Manager Mark Cole, the ballet has seen falling ticket sales and donations since September and came to the difficult decision last week. "It's been about six to eight weeks coming," he said. "We'll prune the rose bush back and be ready for growth once the money starts flowing again." He said the ballet plans to use recordings during the 2009-10 season as well.
DDA, BEACON BOND: The Miami Downtown Development Authority wants to work more closely with the Beacon Council, a public-private agency that works to better Miami and Miami-Dade County's business climate. Authority board member Hank Klein wants to forge a stronger partnership with the Beacon Council to better market downtown to potential retail and office tenants. "The Beacon does a tremendous job of marketing Dade County, that's one of their missions and they do a great job," he said. "We want to make sure downtown is part of that process." Board Chairman Joe Sanchez agrees the authority's economic development committee needs to provide more incentives to lure to downtown big players in such industries as music, biomedical and film. The Beacon Council leadership plans to attend the authority's January meeting.
FINANCE CHIEF: The chief financial officer of Palm Beach County's Clerk and Comptroller's Office is to replace Rachel Baum as Miami-Dade County's finance director. Ms. Baum is to retire this month after 32 years with the county. Carter Hammer of Palm Beach is to take over with nearly 30 years in financial management and planning posts in the public and private sector, according to an announcement to Miami-Dade commissioners from Mayor Carlos Alvarez and Clerk of Courts Harvey Ruvin, who jointly appointed him. In a memo to the new director, County Manager George Burgess assigned him several tasks, including proactively identifying fiscal issues that could impact the county and monitoring its debt and investment portfolios.
DIRECTOR SEARCH: To replace outgoing Miami-Dade Citizens' Independent Transportation Trust Executive Director Nan Markowitz, the trust is searching locally in and outside of the county's employee pool, trust Chair Linda Zilber says. "We're not necessarily gong to hire somebody that is part of the county… but if there are people that are familiar with transit within the county that put in an application, we are more than happy to interview them." The trust, which is charged with overseeing and reviewing transportation and transit projects tied to a half-cent surtax voters approved in 2002, has already received inquiries, she said. The plan is probably to put in place an interim director soon as the search continues.
FIRST HIRE: This will mark the first time the Independent Transportation Trust appoints its own director. Until now, the director had been an employee of the county manager. The trust faces crucial issues, with the transit department facing a multi-billion-dollar funding gap over the next 30 years and some administrators pushing to merge surtax proceeds with general revenue, a move that would break the county's promise to use the tax money only for new projects.
SILENCE ON SETTLING: A move by Miami-Dade Commissioner Katy Sorenson to avoid a potentially costly and time-consuming legal battle with the state over county development decisions died at a committee meeting Tuesday when no commissioner offered to second the motion. The county voted this year to allow certain projects outside its urban development boundary, prompting disapproval from the Florida Department of Community Affairs. Rather than reverse their decisions as the state asked, the county has chosen to fight. At a time the county plans to seek government funding for infrastructure and other projects, "it doesn't make sense to be violating our own smart-growth policies," Ms. Sorenson said. Commissioner Natacha Seijas noted the administrative hearings on the issues began Monday. But, Ms. Sorenson said, "The attorneys could settle this today." No one agreed, and her measure died.
VIRTUAL SITE VISITS: Companies looking to move to or expand in Miami-Dade can now examine potential sites without leaving their desks. The Beacon Council, Miami-Dade's economic development arm, has launched a web-based imaging application providing 360-degree views similar to what you see driving down the street. Users will also be able to view surrounding neighborhoods and other areas of the county. The application is available only to companies working with the agency to evaluate Miami-Dade County. Miami-based Blue Dasher Technologies is behind the technology.
SPEAK OUT ON MIAMI 21: At the Planning Advisory Board meeting Dec. 17, Miamians get to speak about the highly debated Miami 21 zoning plan. At the November meeting, several board members asked for more discussion and public comments on revisions to the proposed Miami 21 zoning code since its April 2007 unveiling. City Attorney Julie Bru looked into their request.
HER LEGAL OPINION: In a Dec. 2 memo to the board, Ms. Bru said the next meeting will allow added public comment and board consideration on revisions to the proposed citywide zoning including the east quadrant, which the board had approved in 2007. After more than a year of public meetings and a citywide marketing campaign, the proposed code is seen as still lacking support of many Miamians.
BANKING JOBS SAFE: With job loss a growing a fear, the Florida Bankers Association doesn't expect significant cuts in the local banking sector, one of the largest area employers, said President Alex Sanchez. The association represents more than 300 banks and financial institutions. He said many Florida banks are well-capitalized and should remain strong enough to keep posts filled during the economic storm — a relief for bankers as Florida's unemployment hit 7% in October, above the nation's 6.5%, with 655,000 Floridians losing jobs, according to a report of the Agency for Workforce Innovation.
LOWER RATES FAIR? The US Treasury is shifting focus from gluing together the financial system to helping people keep their homes. The Treasury is working on a plan to subsidize 30-year home mortgages with rates as low as 4.5%, levels unseen in over four decades. The 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages currently are above 5%. But Mr. Sanchez, of the Florida Bankers Association, said he's concerned with the plan's fairness to current homeowners saddled with higher rates. Realtors, on the other hand, see a rate drop as a way to sell off a swelling inventory of houses.
LIQUOR FOR MiMo: The Miami commission agreed to allow alcohol-serving businesses in the Miami Modern (MiMo)/Biscayne Boulevard Historic District to stimulate redevelopment. MiMo, a historic district created to protect 1950s motels and other buildings in the "Miami Modern" style, encompasses Biscayne Boulevard from Northeast 50th to 77th streets. Commissioners approved a Wynwood Café District in July to allow open liquor sales because the emerging artistic hub needs restaurants, bars and cafes. MiMo supporters got commissioners to modify the proposal to include any property within the proposed district. The ordinance awaits a final vote today (12/11).
COMMISSION CAPTAIN: The Miami-Dade Sports Commission may soon be headed solely by a county commissioner. The County Commission initially approved a measure to change the position — now a co-chairmanship of a member and a commissioner — to a single commissioner chairman. Current co-chair José "Pepe" Diaz sponsored the legislation. It passed with no discussion — Rebeca Sosa and Audrey Edmonson voted no — and is to be heard at the Airport and Tourism Committee today (12/11). Mr. Diaz said the idea is to bring the body in line with other committees that have commissioners as chairs.
TO VOTE OR NOT TO VOTE: A plan to build an office building for Grove Harbour Marina and Marketplace in Coconut Grove was tabled after some Miami commissioners said it wasn't appropriate to discuss it in Commissioner Marc Sarnoff's absence. Mr. Sarnoff was on a business trip. He represents the district and had voiced concerns about the project's size. City Manager Pete Hernandez read an e-mail from Mr. Sarnoff in which he indicated his guidelines for approving the project, but commissioners Joe Sanchez and Tomás Regalado argued neither was presented with written consent from Mr. Sarnoff to proceed with a vote. Both were adamant about saving the item for his return. All except Angel Gonzalez, who said he thought the e-mail instructions were enough, voted to place the item on today's (12/11) agenda.
SIMPSON PARK REVAMP: German auto maker Audi is teaming up with the City of Miami to revitalize historic Simpson Park, at 15th Road and South Miami Avenue. The project is part of Miami Mayor Manny Diaz's efforts to revamp Miami's green spaces. Swiss-based landscape designer Enzo Enea and local architect Chad Oppenheim are to collaborate in the redesign. Mr. Enea has developed designs to enhance the nature park's 5.5 acres of hammock: building an eco-friendly playground, educational kiosks and a boardwalk. Restoration of the park's native state, threatened in the past by development, is to offer Miamians a piece of the city's early flora and fauna.
EARLY PRESENT: Even though the Air Transport Association of America projected air travel would drop about 10%, Miami International Airport showed a 3.2% increase to 772,461 travelers from the previous Thanksgiving period, according to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.
LOST AND FOUND: Luggage, laptop computers, digital music players, cellular phones, digital cameras, DVD players, jewelry, toys, sporting goods and more will be auctioned during Miami International Airport's public auction at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at 5600 NW 36th St. Attendees can preview items from 8:30-9:30 a.m. that day. Auctioneer Paul May said the offerings won't differ much from the past: "Same thing as always… 400-500 suitcases, bags of jewelry, cell phones..."